By George Stone, TRAVEL Executive Editor
Short answer: Pick a window seat. As the deadly coronavirus continues to spread—from a wildlife market in central China to its emergence as a global threat—we have been reporting on the evolution of the outbreak, focusing on how travelers should respond. That is, where the quarantines are, what's cancelled, and what to do if you've planned a trip to Asia. (Pictured above: passengers on a Hong Kong-to-Bangkok flight last week).
Nat Geo science editor Nsikan Akpan and writer Amy McKeever have been tracking the story from all angles. One fascinating question they’re asking: Are some seats on airplanes better choices for reducing the risk of coming into contact with a contagion? It seems that while jetliners can act as germ vectors, seats with a view are safer. "Finally, there’s a good reason to sit in a window seat,” Akpan says.
According to researchers, passengers in aisle seats have a greater likelihood of coming into contact with communicable viruses due to the proximity of other passengers; it is also possible that passengers in window seats are more likely to stay put for the duration of a flight. At any rate, the dirtiest spots on an airplane (from a bacterial standpoint) include: tray tables, air vents, seatbelt buckles, restrooms, and seatback pockets. Germs are everywhere—so a smart practice is to carry and use disinfectant wipes and hand sanitizers when you travel.
Microbes aside, there's another advantage of sitting by the window: epic views! Once you've washed your hands, grab your camera and fill your frame with views from 30,000 feet. Here's a gallery full of expert advice (including this photo, below, of Nevada) for snapping stunning photos at cruising altitude.
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Today in a minute
Where’s the mini-soap? The owners of Novotel, Ibis, Mondrian, and Fairmount hotels is the latest group getting rid of travel-sized toiletries in its rooms, CNN reports. The removal of individual tubes of shampoo, conditioner and bath gel from its 340,000 guest rooms (replaced by liquid dispensers) is part of an environmental drive to reduce single-use plastics. Marriott, Hilton, Holiday Inn, and Hyatt have made similar moves.
Airline trickery: Watch the total cost of your ticket and baggage carefully, recommends columnist David Lazarus of the Los Angeles Times. U.S. airlines aren’t offering passengers a single, all-inclusive price for goods and services, as they are required to do in Europe. What does that mean? Jacked-up luggage check-in costs and other add-on fees.
Let it go: The idyllic lakeside village of Hallstatt in the Austrian Alps is being swamped by tourists in the mistaken belief that it inspired the kingdom of Arendelle in the animated hit Frozen. (It was Norway.) The town has said enough. Bouncers have been hired by churches and cemeteries to prevent people from sauntering in to services, The New York Times reports. Contributing to the tourist crunch: Harper’s Bazaar named Hallstatt one of the 10 most Instagrammable cities in the world last year.
Traveling solo: Experts and our readers offer tips for solo women travelers from getting topographical maps to taking first-day walking tours of the places you visit. Says reader Rachelle Aiken, who made a great friend on a Botswana safari: “Be the traveler that you would want to meet on the road."
Your Instagram photo of the day
Wild: Halfway into our six-day sail to the island of South Georgia in the south Atlantic Ocean, photographer and Nat Geo Wild filmmaker Bertie Gregory was treated to this epic double rainbow. “We all felt very lucky and very small as we bobbed about the waves in a 50-foot sailboat over 400 miles from land,” Gregrory wrote. “Nothing could prepare us for the wildlife extravaganza that awaited us at the end of our journey” to Resurrection Island, where nature bounced back from a horrid massacre.
See: How wildlife overcame South Georgia’s haunting past
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The big takeaway
The word is Waldeinsamkeit: When we searched for wooded places where readers found solitude, Christina DeGroodt from northern Maryland gave me the word in German (she grew up hiking in Bavaria’s woods). “I obviously find great solitude and peace of mind in a deep forest or on a mountain,” she wrote, “but can find it even in my own backyard, especially at 2 a.m. on a 20 degree night (tonight!) and oh the stars!” Another reader, Lace Thornberg, suggested the high desert of western Oregon and Idaho. “This rugged sagebrush steppe landscape ... offers up more solitude than most people are comfortable with. You will never feel crowded looking out over the Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge, or on a trip into the Owyhee Canyonlands. The area has a population density on par with Alaska, and yet it's right here in the lower 48.”
Related: A skeptic tries forest bathing
In a few words
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The last glimpse
The hunt for black cardamom: Travelers and farmers have to brave snakes, switchbacks, and a bumpy mountain path in a Vietnamese national park to find a forest with a key ingredient for many Vietnamese dishes. Black cardamom was first planted in Vietnam’s Hoang Lien Mountains in the 1990s as a replacement for opium, a banned crop that once helped prop up Indochina’s colonial economy. Cardamom thrives along high-altitude streams, and Mike Ives and Ian Teh, working for Nat Geo, tagged along for a harvest.
Subscribers can read more: Vietnamese mountain trek is a mountain climber’s dream