Traveling has always come with complications. Our By The Way Concierge column will take your travel dilemmas to the experts to help you navigate the new normal.
Is it actually a health risk to put your suitcase on your bed after you travel, or just gross? It's a question our By The Way team has debated for years - and our editor's No. 1 pet peeve. After the issue came up again in a recent article, we decided to take a longer look at the topic.
I'm guilty of this "red flag behavior" myself. Before and after every trip, I flop my duffle bag on my bed to pack and unpack. It's the easiest way to access both my closet and laundry basket. It's also a disgusting concept to many, many people.
When I posed the question of this week's column on Instagram earlier this week, dozens of people replied with their rage.
"This is a crime!" one person wrote.
"I just threw up a little in my mouth," said another.
Other replies included varying degrees of profanity.
Their argument: Think about where your luggage has been. We roll suitcases across sidewalks where dead rats were smooshed; drag them over soiled hotel carpets; set them on airport bathrooms where . . . I'll stop.
But "gross" is different than bad for you. Is there any reason my dirtbag behavior is actually risky?
Right out the gate, Lin H. Chen - an associate professor at Harvard Medical School and director of the Travel Medicine Center at Mount Auburn Hospital - sided with my online haters.
"My common sense says I would not want to put my suitcase on the bed that I'm going to sleep in because of where the suitcases have traveled," she said.
Mark Gendreau - a physician and chief medical officer of BILH Beverly and Addison Gilbert hospitals in Massachusetts - said about the same: "I don't think it's a good idea to come home and put your suitcase on your bed."
Even so, Gendreau doesn't recommend going for a "Bubble Boy" approach to travel.
"You probably already have a ton of bacteria that you picked up from hotels or travels or school or work that are just part of your natural flora," he said.
"The possibility of flesh-eating bacteria" coming home on your bag "would be extremely rare," Gendreau said. Our bodies are used to fighting off or working with the many microorganisms we encounter on our suitcase and elsewhere. So "if you're healthy and your immune system is intact for the most part, it shouldn't be an issue whatsoever," he added.
Instead of MRSA, Gendreau and Chen both said their chief concern for on-bed packing is bedbugs (yes, even if you're not in Paris).
Bedbugs are known to hang out in travel hot spots like hotels, trains and cruise ships among their usual haunts like apartments. Should they end up in your suitcase on a trip, you don't want to deliver them straight to your own bed.
So where should you park your luggage? Chen opts for the top of a cabinet or dresser, a suitcase rack or even the floor. Gendreau recommends simply unloading where you do your laundry. And after you roll through puddles or buses or train stations, both recommend cleaning off your bag with a disinfecting wipe.
After our call, Chen continued investigating the topic and looked to see if there's been any recent research. She couldn't find anything with respect to microbes or infectious agents on suitcases, but her advice still stood: Keep your suitcase off your bed.