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How to Avoid Strong Artificial Smells When Traveling

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It’s not just your signature hotel scent wafting through the lobby or the aromatherapy kit in your bathroom. During the seemingly endless pandemic, these are also the solutions used to clean public spaces at airports, train stations and hotel lobbies. They give us headaches.

Airlines, car rental companies, cruise lines and hotels have added many of these smelly solutions during the pandemic to make customers feel safer, says consumer psychologist Michal Strahilevitz, who teaches marketing at the St. Mary’s College in California. Reassuring passengers with the scent of cleaners, she says, makes perfect sense, as many of us have been taught since childhood that this is what cleanliness and safety smells like. In reality, it has nothing to do either.

“And personally,” she adds, “these artificial scents make me nauseous.”

That makes two of us. Over the past two years, travel companies have created and promoted programs in conjunction with cleaning brands. Initially, experts thought the smells would fade with the pandemic. But the pandemic persists – and so do all the annoying, headache-inducing chemical smells.

There are ways to avoid the smell, but for now, at least, it’s hard to completely escape it.

Patti Wood recently moved into a hotel room in Birmingham, Alabama that reeked of disinfectant. It triggered an immediate asthma attack.

“The smell was overwhelming,” says Wood, an Atlanta body language consultant whose clients include hotel companies. “I went down to reception to see if there were any rooms that had been cleaned and deodorized the day before, so the smell wouldn’t be so strong.”

The travel industry knows the power of smell.

Many hotels have started creating signature scents that they hope will enhance the experience. At Boulders Resort & Spa Scottsdale, for example, you can smell the “scent of the desert,” a characteristic scent of mesquite and shaggy-barked juniper. CitizenM, a chain of boutique hotels, releases an “invigorating” (his words) scent of “petitgrain, fresh fig, and orange blossom contrasted with creamy sandalwood and soft musk.” It even has a perfume sommelier on staff.

But this approach can be taken to extremes. I recently stayed at a resort in Portugal’s Alentejo region that also had a signature scent. He placed a generous vial of essential oil next to the desk where I was trying to write a story. Within minutes, I had a searing headache. Luckily, I was able to move the rose-scented carafe into the bathroom, where it probably belonged anyway.

Companies also know that odors can be profitable. A 2012 study by researchers at Washington State University linked the presence of a simple orange scent in a home decor store to increased spending by customers, who increased on average by about 20%. The researchers found that the principle also applies to the hospitality industry. Alan Hirsch, director of the Smell & Taste Treatment and Research Foundation in Chicago, published a research paper in 1995 which found that visitors to a Las Vegas casino gambled on average 45% more on a floor with a smell. pleasant.

Nowadays, smells are used to make people feel safer. And it seems to work – except when it doesn’t.

Anne Markowski, who works for a museum in New Haven, Connecticut, has multiple chemical sensitivities, which causes her to react to low levels of commonly used chemicals. She’s long avoided boutique hotels because of their signature scents, but during the pandemic, she says, “travel is very stressful.”

The worst are the toilets, says Markowski, some of which have motion-triggered air fresheners that emit a thick floral scent. “What they’re actually doing is contributing to indoor air pollution.”

She says she also avoids airports with chemical sprayers, like Phoenix Sky Harbor. “I try my best not to log on there,” she says.

This brings us to the first way to avoid travel smells: you can book around them. Airlines, hotels, and car rental companies have high-profile cleaning programs with brands known for their distinctive smells. For example, Hilton’s CleanStay program partners with Reckitt, makers of Lysol and Dettol, so if you’re very sensitive to odors and prefer to avoid cleaning product odors, you might want to avoid a room that’s just been cleaned. be cleaned at a Hilton property.

Some hotels also have commercial-grade ozone machines, which can eliminate unpleasant odors without using artificial fragrances. Someone at your hotel should be able to tell you if they have one.

Another strategy is to cover your face, even if you don’t have to. “If perfumes bother you, masks can definitely help,” says Kalliope Amorphous, owner of perfume house Black Baccara. A mask will block out some of the odors. If you prefer to smell something else, you can add a few drops of your favorite perfume to the mask.

“Scents like lavender and chamomile can be especially soothing and calming,” she says.

Nicole Villegas, an occupational therapist who specializes in treating anxiety and sensory sensitivities, says travelers bothered by strong smells should be proactive.

“The best way to handle a situation where an odor may be causing you discomfort is to actively react to the problem,” says Villegas. “When it comes to uncomfortable smells or scents, many people take a passive approach and just wait for the smell to pass. odor and feel the discomfort or pain longer as well.

Villegas recommends moving around, opening a window or wearing an odor mask.

But there’s a bigger issue at play here: the travel industry as a whole needs to rethink its use of fragrances. There are already so many things companies use to manipulate travelers. Smells shouldn’t be one of them.

Prospective travelers should consider local and national public health guidelines regarding the pandemic before planning any travel. Information on travel health advisories can be found on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s interactive map showing travel recommendations by destination and on the CDC’s travel health advisories webpage.