Traveling over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house can expose your kids to lots and lots of germs.

Think about all the things they’ll come in contact with — public bathrooms, airline food trays, remote controls, theater seat armrests, escalator handles, elevator buttons, shopping carts and more. Not to mention sneezing, coughing, runny-nosed cousins. All of these are breeding grounds for germs.

And parents, here’s one for you — University of Arizona research found that 71% of gas pump handles are contaminated with germs that can make you ill.

importance of handwashing reduce sickness fewer germsSince 80% of infections are spread by hand, the holiday season is a great time for parents to make sure kids wash their hands often and thoroughly, which is a proven healthy habit. Research has found that kids who wash their hands as least four times per day have 24% fewer sick days from colds, flu and similar illnesses and 51% fewer sick days from stomach ailments.

So, when should kids wash their hands?
• Before they eat
• Before putting in contacts
• After using the bathroom
• After blowing their noses, or coughing or sneezing into their hands
• After feeding, playing with, or cleaning up after their pets
• After taking out the garbage (congratulations if you can get them to do it!)
• After playing outdoors or being out in public

Teach kids the right way to wash their hands and make it easy for them to do it themselves, like getting a step stool so little ones can reach the sink.

And yes, there is a right way to wash, according to the CDC. Wet hands with clean running water, apply soap and lather by rubbing hands together with soap. Scrub all surfaces including palms, backs, fingers, between fingers and under nails. Keep scrubbing for at least 20 seconds (just hum “Happy Birthday” twice). Rinse under clean, running water and dry with a clean towel or air dryer.

Of course, while you’re traveling you may not be able to wash hands at a sink, so carry anti-bacterial wipes with you. Make sure you find a brand that guarantees to kill 99.9 percent of germs and can serve as a hand and surface wipe.

One more tip for keeping little hands germ-free. Instead of covering their mouths with their hands when they cough, teach kids to use their upper arm, kind of like Dracula holding his cape in front of his face.

Happy holidays, and may your travels be safe and germ-free.