Put your black light away. We’ve all seen footage of people scanning dark rooms with the revealing black light; stains and smears, invisible in the daylight, pop up in the most unexpected and shocking places (not the pillowcase—anything but the pillowcase). But traveling with this device, which is great for dramatic effect on television, is far from necessary. Here are a few other, less obsessive things you can do to rest assured you have a clean hotel room.
Read the Reviews: There are no international standards for hotel cleanliness. Price, location, or a brand name will not guarantee completely sanitary digs. So until some international “clean commission” starts sending out fastidious officials to size up squalid toilets in hotels around the world, your best bet is to find out what your fellow travelers are saying. Most travel and hotel review sites have cleanliness as a category for evaluation. The largest hotel-review site is TripAdvisor (SmarterTravel’s parent company) with user ratings of thousands of hotels, restaurants, and businesses around the world; you can also find hotel reviews on major booking engines such as Booking.com, Hotels.com, and Expedia.
Wash Your Hands: In the interest of not sounding like your mother, I would like to preface this by saying that it doesn’t bother me if you chew with your mouth open or your shirt’s not tucked in. Hand washing, on the other hand, is near and dear to my heart. Frequent hand washing has been proven to reduce the transfer of colds and viruses, and will prevent bacteria getting from whatever it is you’re touching (why is this remote control sticky?) to your mouth, eyes, or nose. So even if your hotel room is poorly sanitized, some good ol’ hand washing will keep the icky germs at bay.
Ditch the Bedspread: You’ve probably heard this one before: Most hotels do not wash heavy bedspreads after each unique guest. The frequency of laundering varies from hotel to hotel, so if the idea of an anonymous stranger cuddling up with the blanket that now lies across your queen bed creeps you out, call your hotel and ask how often the staff washes the bedspreads. Or bring your own travel-friendly blanket and remove the hotels altogether.
Carry Wipes: Yes, you’re paying (and tipping, hopefully) so that housekeeping will keep your room in order. And I must admit, I’ve never once sprayed, dusted, or polished anything in a hotel room, so I can’t blame you if you choose to leave your toilet brush at home. But if you’re feeling a little icky in your dumpy budget hotel room or you just want to be extra cautious, simply hitting frequently touched surfaces with some antibacterial wipes could make your life a whole lot cleaner. Key places to spray for germs include the phone, doorknobs, toilet handle, ice bucket, remote control, and bathroom faucet handles. Another option is to wave a UV wand over places prone to germs.
Avoid the Glassware: There’s no guarantee that your room glasses and mugs aren’t simply rinsed off under the tap by the cleaning staff, or even wiped down with the same sponge that’s used to clean other parts of the bathroom. The quick way to deal with this is to run your cup under hot water for a minute or two before using it; this will kill most bacteria. Or you can pack a travel mug from home.
There’s been a recent resurgence of these blood-sucking pests, which were nearly eradicated in North America decades ago. Reports of bedbugs in hotels across the States have been rising, probably in part as a result of the comings and goings of world travelers—bedbugs are found around the world and can easily hitch a ride across the ocean in a neatly packed suitcase. Not even luxury hotels are immune.
A family member of mine who manages a brand-name upscale hotel in New York City acknowledged that his hotel occasionally has bouts of bedbugs. He explained that they usually come over in the baggage of international travelers. It’s nearly impossible to check all rooms for the pests after every guest, and, unfortunately, every once in a while a guest will wake up with unsettling red welts. The hotel staff refunds the guest’s money, offers a room change, and fumigates the infestation, but there is not much they can do in terms of prevention. Bedbugs are a nuisance, but they’re not dangerous—their bites do not transmit disease as do the bites of ticks and fleas.