Travel--whether it's a business trip to visit a customer or client, or a family trip to visit relatives over the holidays--is not necessarily everyone's idea of fun.

While visiting new destinations can often be a nice change of pace, it's the getting (and staying) there that can sometimes be a tremendous hassle. Now, add to that a distinctly unhealthy surprise revealed in a scientific sampling of hotel rooms.

According to a study released by online trip calculator Travelmath, researchers found something surprising in hotel rooms that should be of tremendous concern for traveling customers.

Bacteria--lots and lots of it.

But not just any kind of bacteria--specifically, this is fecal and other bacteria from human digestive tracts and elsewhere that could cause all sorts of health problems for someone who happens to ingest or otherwise come in contact with the living organisms.

To conduct the study, Travelmath hired EmLab P&K to perform all laboratory testing. Travelmath sent a team to nine hotels to gather 36 samples--selecting a variety of five-star, four-star, and three-star hotels to see if price had any bearing on results. As it turned out, it did, but not in the way you might expect.

Results of the sampling were assessed in terms of colony-forming units (CFUs), which is a count of the number of viable bacteria cells in a given sample. The lower the number the better. Here's the average CFU count for bacteria that the testing revealed on four different hotel room surfaces, ranked from highest to lowest:

  1. Bathroom counter: 1,288,817 CFU/sq. in.
  2. Remote control: 1,211,687 CFU/sq. in.
  3. Desk: 604,907 CFU/sq. in.
  4. Phone: 4,252 CFU/sq. in.

Yes--that's more than a million viable bacteria cells per square inch on your hotel room bathroom counter and on your TV remote control.

While that's not exactly the best news ever, more surprising was how the results varied between three-, four-, and five-star hotels. In three-star hotels, the TV remote control had "only" 232,733 CFUs of bacteria.

However, in the sampled four-star hotels, the TV remote control had a surprising 1,400,027 CFUs of bacteria.

But that wasn't the worst of it. Five-star hotels blew away the competition with a truly shocking 2,002,300 CFUs of bacteria.

According to the study,

In three-star hotels, the remote control tended to harbor Bacillus spp, which could be associated with various infections, including respiratory and gastrointestinal. Additionally, tests revealed yeast present in the bathrooms in three-star hotels. In four-star hotels, Bacillus spp dominated on the remote and telephone. In five-star hotels, the brunt of bacteria were gram negative, though the phone was rife with gram-positive cocci.

In a different sampling of hotel rooms conducted by researchers from the University of Houston, other commonly contaminated spots included toilets, bathroom sinks and floors, carpets, bedside lamp switches, hotel hair dryers, and even room service menus.

Said one former housekeeper for a five-star hotel, who reported that it was common for staff to clean toilet bowls with hand towels and to be under pressure to move from room to room as quickly as possible:

When you always visit five-star hotels, you think you are getting the best services, clean linen and everything. But when you actually go behind the scenes to do the work, you realize that not everything goes as you expect.

If there are any surfaces in your hotel room that you're particularly concerned about, you should give them a good cleaning with disinfectant wipes--something every traveler would do well to bring along in their suitcase. And as for that dirty TV remote control? Suggests Cristina Bond, former outreach manager for Travelmath:

I might wipe down the remote the next time I stay at a hotel, or be mindful of washing my hands or using hand sanitizer after I touch it. I think it's more about being mindful of the fact that there is bacteria everywhere you go.

Definitely wise advice.