Travel Tips - Trouble-Free
Take-Offs and Landings
By Gwenith Whitford
UPdate Spring 1996
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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”
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!
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
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
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.
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.
preparation and thorough planning for your unique situation while away
from home should ensure an enjoyable time. Have a healthy and happy
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)
· “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,
· 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.