Why do travelers stink?

We’re introducing a new feature for Tuesday: What’s my problem? It’ll deal with some of the most common travel challenges, their causes, and the solutions.

It wafted forward from the back of the car like a poisonous gas.

My first warning was my two sons suddenly coughing and gagging. “Open the windows,” they wheezed from the back seat, demanding we air out the vehicle immediately.

The second sign? The maniacal laughter of my seven-year-old daughter.

From the rearview mirror, I caught a flash of her cherubic face, dark with mischief. Her rebellious whaaaat? resonated throughout our Honda.

And that was the last thing I remember before my eyes began to tear up like the end of Titanic and I had to pull to the side of the road.

Strapped in her booster car seat, she had been indiscriminately spraying a cologne sample she’d snatched at the mall the day before. The cloying and overpowering scent bearing the name of a pop singer settled in the car like a fog before her brothers wrestled the offending atomizer from her fingers and tossed it out the window.

“I hate you!” she screeched at her siblings.

I wasn’t sure how we’d survive the next five-hour drive to Destin, Florida, steeped in the stench; I just knew it would probably seem like the longest trip of my life.

I had to wonder: Am I the only one affected by smells when I travel?

It reminded me of a recent Delta flight to Paris when the passenger seated in the row directly in front of me sprayed her seat — and my personal space — with cologne before settling down for the flight.

At first I thought it might be a disinfectant. But no, it was a thick and musty floral perfume. And she wielded the compact, expensive bottle like an exterminator’s pesticide.

What was she thinking?

To me, body sprays and fragrances are like a personal force field that surrounds a person. I’m just not sure if it’s really intended to draw people in or keep people out.

I’m repelled.

Still, there isn’t much I can do. The biggest challenge is when we’re in tight quarters, like a bus, train or airplane. You can’t just walk away and put some distance between the offending passengers and yourself.

Over the years I’ve learned a few tricks to keep the odors at bay. Here are a few:

• Always carry a clean scarf you can cover your nose and mouth with while traveling by train. Also handy at the movie theaters.

• Bring a relaxation inhaler with a minty or comforting scent. Camomile tea bags also work well. Just dampen and use like smelling salts near the nose.

• Think happy thoughts and concentrate of the other four senses.

Though these strategies don’t always work, at least I have a process I can use to address the aromas with attitude before migraines ensue.

So my question is, should people be able to spray perfume wherever and whenever they want when in public spaces? Or should they be limited to private spaces where innocent bystanders are less likely to be affected?

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