Travel Tips - Trouble-Free Take-Offs and Landings
By Gwenith Whitford
UPdate Spring 1996

     Does flying make you feel sick? Are you overwhelmed by odors in hotel rooms? Is dining out a trial? Traveling can take its toll on anyone.  People with environmental illness are particularly susceptible when spending time away from their safe havens.
 However, with a little forethought and advance preparation, it may be possible to have a healthier and more pleasurable trip.  The potential problems may seem overwhelming at first: insecticides used on planes and in hotel rooms; stuffy air in planes, in hotels and in restaurants; cigarette smoke; foods with unfamiliar ingredients.  Fortunately, many of these difficulties and discomforts can be reduced or avoided.
     It is imperative to get lots of rest before you go.  Eat only a few foods that you can tolerate, or fast on the day of travel, if you can stand it.  Try to get some fresh air and exercise too.  If you follow these steps, your immune system may be better able to handle any unanticipated exposures.  As persons with EI are disabled in varying degrees and react differently to various substances, it is important to consult with an informed physician for individualized medical advice before embarking on any journey.
     When I travel, I try to pack foods that I can tolerate.  By checking with customs officials for specific countries, you will be informed as to what goods can be brought into certain destinations.  Of course, these supplies would be far personal use only.  Normally, fresh produce and meats are not permitted.
     Although I do not “travel light,” it has always been worth the extra effort.  I take my own soap and shampoo, cotton pillow, bed sheets and barrier cloth or aluminum foil to put over the mattress or the airplane seat.  This helps to protect against dust mites and chemicals which may be off-gassing from the material.  It has been suggested that economy class seats are better than first class for sensitive individuals who react more to plastic and vinyl.
     I always bring as much bottled water as I can carry onto the plane, and take along a portable hiker’s filter for use at my destination.  Also included in my on-flight bag to help offset reactions are my neutralizing sublingual serums, sago palm vitamin C and bi-salts or tri-salts or Alka Seltzer Gold.  Other essentials include acidopholus to help keep the good bacteria present in the intestines and ginger capsules for motion sickness.
     Airplane air is notorious for being bad.  Continuous oxygen at four litres per minute has been helpful for me.  I only take off the mask to eat and to go to the washroom.  Unfortunately, my ceramic mask is attached to tubing with will not fit into the airline’s equipment, but it might be worth taking your own mask if you have problems with the plastic ones.  Many airlines will provide oxygen (for a price, or course) provided that it has been prearranged through your travel agent, and a doctor has prescribed it for you.  I have found most Canadian airlines to be cooperative and understanding.  If they will not provide oxygen or allow you bring your own, then there is too much potential for a problem.  Stick with one that can guarantee preordered in-flight oxygen as part of their service.
     While not everyone has success with oxygen, a mask with a charcoal filter may be just as helpful.  Be sure to have it on during take-off and landing, when more exhaust fumes are likely to enter the cabin.  A wet wash cloth held over the mouth and nose until it becomes saturated with vapours may be useful if nothing else is available.  If the air seems really stuffy, inform the flight attendant.  The pilot may be able to increase the flow of fresh air.  Avoid sitting near a washroom or by someone who is heavily scented.  Make sure that the flight attendants are aware of your condition.  Ask to be moved if you feel unwell in a certain location.
     Because of a disability such as chemical sensitivities, it may be possible to ask for pre-boarding privileges, especially for setting up the oxygen right away.  Enquire about a special room or area to wait for boarding, in order to avoid cigarettes and other offensive odors.  While in flight, drink plenty of (tolerated) non-alcoholic fluids so that you won’t dehydrate.
     When planning to travel to any tropical destination by plane, be sure to ask whether the airplane cabin will be sprayed with insecticide before passengers can disembark.  If there is a chance, it would probably be safer to choose another destination.  Your travel agent can confirm this with the airline.  A number of Caribbean, Central American and South American countries have regulations in effect for insecticide spraying of occupied aircraft cabins on arriving international flights.
     Finding the right accommodation for your special needs may take a bit of research, but will likely be worth the effort.  You might want to consider the following: an older hotel (but not too old); no recent renovations; no carpets; windows that open; no recent extermination; a non-smoking floor; location away from airports or industry.  In my experience, smaller resorts and inns may be friendlier and more accommodating of one’s “unusual” requests.
     They may not be as zealous about pesticide use as some of the larger complexes.  A room on the second floor or higher may be more beneficial, but avoid being near the roof, if it is made of asphalt or tar.  If sensitive to chlorine, refrain from choosing a location near the pool.  Be wary of gardens because of the potential for pesticides.  An ocean-front room may cost a bit more, but it may reward you with fresh air (if you are in the right climate and locale!)
     I always ask nicely if the maid would not use strong cleaners or insecticides in the room because of my “allergies.”  Otherwise, she gets the week off! Of course, I do offer an alternative that I have brought along such as mild detergent and baking soda.  I also promise to keep the room crumb-free.  No one has refused me yet.  You can also leave notes around your lodging which indicate what you would like (or not like) to have done.  A room with an electrically-powered kitchenette has always been a bonus for me.  That way, you can but the food that you want, prepare our own meals and save some money too!
     When checking into a room, stay in it initially for about 15 minutes.  If you begin to feel unwell, ask to see another one.  You may have to try this a few times.  When in a room that is tolerable, it might also be beneficial to sleep with your head at the foot of the bed.  This way, you have some distance form the headboard and the wall, which could be off-gassing chemicals.
     For U.S.-bound travelers, there are some sources of information which list hotels and other properties that cater to the special needs of the environmentally sensitive.  Charges for these services are approximately $5 to $10 U.S. above the basic room rate.  (See resources at the end of this article).
     In warmer weather or tropical climates, dining “al fresco” can be an enjoyable experience in unpolluted air.  It is prudent to stay upwind of smoke and scents and to remove candles from the table.  One can order simply prepared foods in may establishments by requesting grilled, poached or baked dishes, with no sauces.  Vegetables can be steamed or raw, as per individual tolerances.  Of course, depending on the country, you may have to be wary of fruits and vegetables washed in local water.  Fruit juices or punches may contain sugar or another sweetener, so be sure to ask when ordering the item.  Eating fewer foods should lessen your total load.  If you cheat and stray from safe foods, you’ll certainly know it soon enough.

      In many places, food and chemical sensitivities may be unheard-of phenomena.  It is always helpful to employ the utmost of patience, courtesy and diplomacy when presenting “unusual” requests for assistance.  Think of yourself as an ambassador for everyone who has the same medical challenges.  Thank you for your consideration.
     A travel agent who understands (or at least respects) the nature of your special needs would be a tremendous asset.  If the counselor does not take you seriously, then do not hesitate to look for someone else.
     Good advance preparation and thorough planning for your unique situation while away from home should ensure an enjoyable time.  Have a healthy and happy trip!

The American Academy of Allergy and Immunology, 611 E. Wells Street, Milwaukee, WI 53202 has a pamphlet on “Pollens around the World” and a “U.S. Pollen Calendar.”  Both are free.  Phone (414) 272-6071.

 Face masks with charcoal filters are available at P’lovers Environmental Store, Park Lane, Halifax, 1-800-565-2998 or (902) 422-6060 or Earthly Goods, 372 Danforth, Toronto, (416) 466-2841 (call collect) or NICO Professional Services, 1515 West 2nd Avenue, Vancouver, Phone: (604) 733-6530; Fax: (604) 733-6506.

 Hospitality Plus Travel Guide for the chemically sensitive has travel tips and lists of U.S. properties.  Contact: Human Ecology Action League, PO Box 29629, Atlanta, GA 30359; phone (404) 248-1890.  Cost: $16 USD (non-members) or $8 USD (members).
 “Green Rooms” for U.S.-bound environmentally ill travelers can be found through the following agencies:
1. Preservations Travel Agency, Oakland, CA.  Ask for “Green Suites” available in California, Arizona and Nevada.  Phone 1-800-3GREEN3 or Fax: (510) 655-4566.
2. EverGreen Rooms in Wilmington, North Carolina installs properties with air and water filtration systems in Florida and other parts of the U.S. For a brochure, call 1-800-929-2626 or (910) 799-7955.

· “Breathing on a Jet Plane” in Consumer Reports August 1994, pp. 501-506.
· CBC Television.  MARKET PLACE.  Episode on Insecticide Spraying on Airplanes, November 15, 1994.
· Golos, Natalie and Frances Golos Golbitz.  “Travel” in Coping with Your Allergies pp. 289-300 (Revised Edition) N.Y.: Simon Schuster, 1986.
· Guisset, Marilyn Shaw.  “Airlines and MCS” in AGES Magazine, vol. IX, no. 2, June 1994, p. 24.
· Hospitality Plus: The HEAL Travel Guide.  Atlanta, GA: The Human Ecology Action League, 1994.
· Human Ecology Action League.  The Human Ecologist.  (various travel references). no. 53, Spring 1992; no. 55, Fall 1992; no. 66, Summer 1995.
· Null, Gary.  “Airplanes” in No More Allergies. N.Y.: Villard, 1994, pp. 77 – 78.
· Rogers, Sherry, M.D. “How to Travel” in The EI Syndrome “ an Rx for Environmental Illness, pp. 353, 516-518.  Syracuse, N.Y. : Prestige, 1986.
· Salloum, Trevor, N.D. “Your Guide to Healthy Travel” in alive # 136, December 1993, pp. 26-27.
· “Traveling Healthy” in National Geographic Traveler November/December 1994, p. 14.
· “Traveling in the U.S. and Abroad” in AGES Magazine, vol. X, no.3, November 1994, p. 28.
· Whitford, Gwenith.  “Healthy Travel : Your Ticket to a Trouble-Free Trip” in Health Naturally February/March 1996, pp. 4-6.