Corn Free Travel (Reprise)

It’s getting to be my travel season again, and while I haven’t solved most of my problems, I’m at least getting better at working around them.

My last travel post was nearly a year ago, and was my first major trip since developing an intense sensitivity to corn, multiple food allerges, and becoming airborne sensitive:

Corn Free Travel: To Baltimore and Back Again

Since then I have traveled to:

  • Austin, Texas for the Housecore Horror Film Festival (yes, as in movies! But they didn’t serve popcorn so I could actually go!)
  • Oakland and San Francisco, CA (twice!)

My upcoming trips:

After a few trips like this, I am somewhat of an old hand at traveling. It doesn’t really get less awkward, but I just am more resigned to it. I refuse to quit living my life and doing things I enjoy just because my body is a jerk, so I am going to keep going through this effort and expense.

The topics covered in my previous post are still germane, and I still have a water problem that is not corn. I haven’t solved this water problem. I am still shipping my water ahead. Here’s a rundown of my travel “routine”:

Overview- The List

I end up making a lot of lists, starting at LEAST 3 weeks before the trip- even a quick 3-day weekend in the Bay Area.  I want to be spontaneous but when it comes to my particular health needs, that is a really, really bad idea and could result in, you know, death. So I strike sort of a compromise. I plan the accommodations, meals, and and items to pack in obsessive detail. Then for actual plans I identify the *types* of events I will be going to just to the point of knowing what kinds of precautions to take/whether I will need to call ahead to see about whether popcorn will be served, and let the details of what we do when be spontaneous. It sort of works.

Here is my generic list of allergy-specific items that I bring on every trip. I customize based on my specific needs and activities.

  • A small HEPA air filter with an optional ionizer setting
  • Allergen pillow cover
  • Allergen mattress cover
  • Bottom (fitted) sheet
  • Fleece blanket
  • Sleeping bag (packs down smaller than a blanket)
  • My own cleaning products (baking soda and corn-free vinegar usually)
  • Small (quart) and large (liter) water bottle
  • The appropriate backpack, purse, or waist pouch to hold everything I need to have on me at a given point in time including an epipen. This is highly individual and the right product will depend on your needs.
  • My own toilet paper.
  • Handkerchiefs because I react to some disposable kleenex.
  • Safe dish soap
  • Safe for me toiletries, including sunscreen. If I forget something I can’t just buy it usually so I am VERY careful to remember everything.
  • My own towels
  • Safe sponge
  • Epipens (4x)
  • Quercetin, (jarrow brand, over the counter. I take 500mg 2x every day normally, and do so for the entire trip)
  • Cromolyn Sodium (gastrocrom, compounded. I take 200mg 4x every day normally and do so for the entire trip.)
  • Xyzal (levocetirizine, compounded, enough for 5mg 4x/day. I take this many, every day,  for the entire trip.)
  • Benadryl,  (diphenhydramine, compounded, I take 25mg every 6 hours as a preventative if I am going somewhere with a lot of potential triggers, more as needed up to 50mg every 6 hours.)
  • Zantac (compounded  I take 150mg 2x/day as a preventative, more as needed based on doc’s advice)
  • Atarax (hydroxyine hcl. I take 25mg every 6 hours as a preventative if I am going somewhere with a lot of potential triggers, more as needed up to 50mg every 6 hours.)
  • Safe-for-me first aid products: gauze, non-stick pads, coban tape, polysporin, hydrogen peroxide, isopropyl alcohol
  • Safe food: Meals frozen in single serving containers, safe snacks, and safe fruit. I mail ahead anything that won’t spoil and pack frozen food in a cooler in my suitcase.
  • Safe water: Yeah, really. See the below for details.

I keep all medications either in the original pharmacy bottle or with a copy of the prescription taped to the container.

Water

This is a special me-problem, not a corn problem. I still cannot seem to tolerate any water but the tap water from my  Seattle area water district. SOME of my water problems are corn problems, but I can’t tolerate any of the bottled waters or water filters that other corn allergics can. I have some sort of other mineral sensitivity.

So I mail my water ahead. I buy water tanks meant for camping and ship them via Fedex. I don’t do UPS because they seem to do more damage to boxes than Fedex. I heard that UPS facilities have conveyor belts that drop items > 2 feet several times at each sort facility, so that may be why. For packaging, we have begun using packing paper or foam sheeting rather than bubble wrap, as the tank is too heavy and the bubbles just pop. I’ve been using 2.5 gallon HDPE water containers from Rigid and mailing several to myself if I need more than 2.5 gallons because the larger tanks are hard to handle.

When I get the tanks, I fill them with water and add some baking soda and let them soak for a couple days then rinse well before filling and shipping, to get any weird factory residue off. So far no issues from the plastic container, or at least small enough issues that the antihistamines I typically take for the whole trip mask it. It’s definitely better than drinking the water at the destination.

So far it seems to work for me to budget 1 gallon of water per day of stay for drinking and occasional washing of dishes. I don’t wash every dish using my safe water as I pack a lot of frozen food that I already pre-made and eat that right out the container. So really I’m usually just washing a fork or the occasional cup. I always add an extra gallon per 5-day stay “just in case”, as running out would be terrible.

Food

For the most part, food is merely fuel for me, especially on a trip. It has to be. So the idea is to package up something convenient to shove in my face to keep myself from passing out so that I can go go go to the next activity. This is a weird way for me to operate as I have typically been the type to want to eat my way through any tourist destination, but that’s just not possible anymore, so I find other things to enjoy. In addition to saving time, packing my own food pre-made  in the dishes that I will eat out of cuts down on possible cross contamination opportunities in a shared kitchen situation and cuts out the need to wash my dishes in safe water.

If I were going somewhere for an extended stay, I might try to arrange for safe food at the destination, but since my trips are usually filled with activities, I actually just save myself the effort and pre-cook myself all the food I am going to eat on the trip. I made soups and meals ahead and freeze them in single serving freezer-safe pyrex containers or pint-size mason jars. The pyrex containers (2 cup round usually, though 3 cup oblong exist if you need a higher volume) are better insulated and more sturdy, but the mason jars are cheap and I always have a lot of them. Many standard beer coozies will stretch to fit on a mason jar so I heat the jars up in the microwave, then put a coozy on them so that I can handle them without burning my hands, and eat right out of the jar. I do this for my work lunches as well.

I also make myself whatever shelf stable road food I can manage: snack mixes made from any safe fruits and nuts I have, and homemade beef or chicken jerky. I make big big batches of dried fruit in my dehydrator and store them in the freezer until I have other ingredients to make a trail mix. Then I mix up the trail mix and package it into single servings and keep in the freezer. Similar with jerky. I also mail fresh fruit ahead such as safe apples, pears, and oranges.

The fruit, jerky, and snack mix I mail ahead and the frozen food I pack in my luggage. My usual amount of food is 3-4 pints of “meat and veggies” meal per day, plus two whole fruits, plus about 2 cups of snack mix for when I’m out. I am only 5’1″/115lbs, but the volume of food I eat is a bit high compared to some because I don’t tolerate grains or any starchy vegetables. When you eat grain and starch free you have to eat a LOT more. I usually add an extra pint of food per couple days just in case I get extra hungry, as again, running out and going hungry would suck. I am expressing food volume in “pints” because I usually use either mason jars or 2-cup pyrex round containers.

Air Travel: Luggage and Liquids

My water problem makes air travel complicated. In addition to food, I bring my own water into the airport by decanting it into glass “boston round” bottles that are the appropriate size (3oz or less), and bringing that as my “liquids” allotment. Once I get through security I dump the bottles into my regular water bottle. The amount of water I can fit into the quart sized ziplock will keep me reasonably hydrated for up to a 9 hour trip. Longer is pushing it. Packing a lot of fruit helps.

If I tolerated bottled water, I would bring sealed bottles of a safe bottled water and get a doctor’s note explaining that it’s a medical necessity. Frozen liquids are also exempt from the liquids rule, so one could freeze water to bring along, but then you have to wait for it to thaw, which takes a while.

Something else to consider is that airlines charge a LOT for overweight luggage, way more than they charge for a second bag. I bought an inexpensive luggage scale and check the luggage policies with my airline ahead, and weigh my luggage at home before I leave for the airport. Generally I do a “practice” pack including all of my meals about 3 days before I leave to make sure that everything will fit and be under the allowed weight per bag.

Accommodations

When possible, I find something with hard-surface floors and no animals. Either a friends’ house or an AirBnB. I contact the host ahead and confirm:

  • No animals or animals confined to an area where I won’t be.
  • No carpets.
  • No wool rugs, blankets, or other furniture.
  • Remove all air fresheners at least one week before I arrive.
  • Use only unscented cleaning products

When I have to stay at a traditional hotel, I call ahead and tell them I have “multiple chemical sensitivities” (which is probably true but not my main reason for my request) and ask them to use “non toxic, unscented” cleaning products on the room. This works to varying degrees so I usually get pretty sick no matter what and spend the whole trip eating antihistamines like candy.

As soon as I get into the room I remove all bedding from the bed and put it in a closet somewhere. I put the allergen covers on the bed and pillows and set the HEPA filter going full blast with the ionizer on. I wipe down all surfaces with a corn-free vinegar solution, and then let the room alone for a couple hours to de-stink. Then when I return it is usually tolerable and I can turn the ionizer off. At night, my boyfriend sleeps in the bed with me and the fleece blanket is enough for him. I sleep cold so I also use the sleeping bag to keep myself warm enough.

When I stay at friends’ houses, I mail some safe laundry detergent ahead and ask them to wash all sheets, pillowcases, and towels before I arrive. That way I don’t have to pack my own sheets. I do still bring the allergen covers though.

Note that many of these requests and items are due to my other, non-corn problems. Just sharing everything I go through, corn related or not.

Environmental Concerns

 


The number of uncontrollable health hazards when traveling are too numerous to list, but here are a few:

  • Ethanol from corn in traffic fumes
  • Perfumes/body products/laundry products on others
  • Cleaning products used in public establishments
  • Fog used in stage shows
  • Popcorn from street vendors or in theaters. Even vaudevillian/broadway theaters have popcorn sometime!
  • Other cooked corn products on the street or inside establishments

The main way I deal with these hazards is by taking preventative antihistamines, and using a carbon filter mask. When traveling, I take compounded Xyzal every single day, as well as 150mg (1 pill) compounded Zantac and 25mg (1 pill) of compounded Benadryl morning and night. The Benadryl does make me a little sleepy but not too sleepy. The Zantac is just to help the Benadryl and Xyzal work more effectively. Please talk with your doctor about dosage and interactions before you decide on your personal antihistamine regimen.

My airborne sensitivity changes depending on other allergen exposures and how many antihistamines I’ve taken. But to give you an idea of what my specific challenges are: I get dizziness, burning tongue, and hoarse throat from being within 5 feet of someone who uses Downy fabric softener ont heir clothes. Not all perfumes bother me but the ones that do give me the same symptoms from usually about 10 feet. Foodwise, sitting within 25 feet of hot corn starch or cooked/steaming whole corn kernels will give me numb lips, difficulty swallowing, and the pass-outs. Within 10 feet for cold, crumbly corn foods like Cheetos or Fritos. All of the above I can handle in close proximity with compounded Xyzal and a carbon filter mask. Popcorn the mask only saves me for 10 minutes.

I can handle fog machine fog for 2 hours with the mask on and a benadryl, if it’s the expensive glycerin-free stuff. I feel hung over for 2 days after. If it’s the glycerin based fog juice, the stuff that smells like cotton candy, the mask will only save me for 20 mins TOPS, probably not even.

I have several masks, but the one I use most often is the  Vogmask N99 CV or N99 C2V with a carbon filter insert. I have several varieties including the black vegan leather (looks like you’re a Mortal Kombat character), a plaid one, and a couple blue-ish colored ones. I wear the black one the most, but because the stylish ones don’t look clinical, people seem to not realize that I’m wearing it for medical reasons and that can cause some interesting social issues. So there are reasons to wear something that looks medical instead of cute.

You can’t fully wash the VogMasks because soaking the built-in filter with water will ruin the activated carbon.  The filter portion of it is fine for me out of the box, however the cloth strip around the edge that holds the whole thing together makes my face itch, and sometimes the material of the outside of the mask “smells funny” to me. To deal with the itchy cloth, I get a faucet running and hold the edges under the stream and scrub at it with my fingers, then hang it on a doorknob to dry. Once it’s dry,  I stick the whole thing in my back jeans pocket and walk around like that for a day, the warmth of my butt removes any chemical smell from the mask. This works with everything except those velvety ones that just smell weird to this day. Yes, I did just recommend using your butt to *remove* scent from an item. Any other way you have to get it warm but not too hot for several hours should work fine, I just find my back pocket convenient.

 

15 thoughts on “Corn Free Travel (Reprise)

  1. Re: your water issues – I haven’t read too much of your blog, but I was wondering if you’ve ever looked at sulfite sensitivity/allergy? That’s a particular issue I have, and the way I found out was because I react to water, various municipal water sources, many filtered waters, and bottled waters.

    Dasani is one of the worst for this issue among people I know. It used to have sulfite warnings on the bottles but no longer does. It says that it doesn’t use sulfites in the processing nor are they added. But the majority of sulfite sensitive people I know have reactions to Dasani water more than most other bottled waters.

    Also, many of us with sulfite issues can have trouble with a lot of foods high in sulfur, like foods in the brassica family (radish, broccoli, cauliflower, mustards, kale), and I thought I recall that you have trouble with some of these, too, yes?

    Just thought I’d mention it, just in case it could be of use. 🙂

    • Sulfur/sulfite sensitivity has most definitely occurred to me regarding water. I do have an issue wiht brassicas, but I can do dandelion greens in massive quantities and those are VERY high sulfur. But that doesn’t mean that sulfites aren’t worth pursuing re: water.

      Out of curiosity, what waters *can* you do? Are there filters or bottled brands that work better for the sulfite sensitive?

      Thanks for this info!

      • So frustrating when things almost match but not quite, yeah? :-/ I hope that you can find out the reason! I’ve read just a few blurbs that the type of sulfur or sulfites can matter, but I have yet to read much on this.

        In the USA, I can do Crystal Geyser without too much trouble, but that’s about it. Aquafina is less of an issue than most others. But on bad days, I react to all of the bottled water I’ve tried. :-/

        A good website for this, if you haven’t seen it yet:
        http://holdthesulfites.com

        Although depending on how bad your reaction is, the way I ended up testing my own sulfite issue finally was to get some sulfite powder from a brewery store. It’s sold as Potassium Metabisulfite or Sodium Metabisulfite and they give directions for how to dilute it enough in water to make an Xppm solution. However, I’m not sure how the powder is in terms of corn contamination. I did a 5 ppm solution and that knocked me flat, so it was pretty definitive.

        Oh, just thought of this: if you have any coconut issues, arrowhead water is supposed to be pretty good. One gal I know had a daughter with a coconut allergy and as most charcoal in the water filters has coconut derived fibers used, she was reacting to water quite badly too. Arrowhead wasn’t using coconut in its filters, last time I talked to her, but it’s been a couple years.

  2. Pingback: Safe-for-Me Products: The List of What I Use | Corn Allergy Girl

  3. Muchas gracias for all the info! Quick question on the water container. Do you use a little or a lot of baking soda in the pre-treat? And do you fill it completely? I’ve been trying to get the scent out of a bunch of water containers we got for emergency preparedness without much luck.

    • I don’t measure, but I generally just dump most of a box of Karlin’s Finest into the tank. The water tanks I use do not have a strong smell when I get them though, just mild scent. It may be that the tanks you ordered are made out of something gross. Mine are HDPE.

  4. Great info. Anyone less sensitive could order ACV, Dr Bronners, etc from Vitacost and have it shipped to arrive before arrival (note: plan for it to arrive 2 days ahead so if there are delays you still get what you need!).

    What air cleaner do you use?

    • I use this little Honeywell. It has an ionizer option and manages to de-stink a standard sized hotel room pretty well in just a couple of hours.

      I typically mail some supplies ahead like cleaner when I go but I tend to mail it myself so i can control the arrival date more carefully rather than playing guessing games with Vitacosts shipping time. 🙂 That’s just preference though, there are lots of ways to do it depending on your style.

  5. Pingback: Preventing and Treating Allergic Reactions: What I Do | Corn Allergy Girl

  6. Pingback: Corn Free Travel: To Baltimore and Back Again | Corn Allergy Girl

  7. I also have a corn allergy along with tree nuts and shellfish. Your post is a real eye opener for me. I was diagnosed last year and am learning more and more how much corn is used.

  8. Sorry, think I posted a partially written comment… I wonder if well water from my area in Baltimore co would work. Low nitrates. I also wonder if you are allergic to something in plastic pipes. If our well water would work, I’d be glad to get it to you for the next Baltimore festival as you have shared so much knowledge and time with us all. Glad to mail a sample

    • Hey Kim.. I deleted your partial reply. 🙂

      For me, I doubt it would work but would try sometime maybe. Water from wells in my home area don’t work, and the water that DOES work for me is both chlorinated and fluoridated. This is not a corn issue or a chemical sensitivity, or if it is, it is to a chemical that is not chlorine and fluoride. I also have issues if the water is from my home water district but comes through newer pipes such as PVC, or comes out of a newer faucet. I think there is an industrial coating that gets me, as I also have this issue with some 304 stainless steel and some borosilicate glass but not others. Again this is NOT a corn problem. In a perfect world where I had nothing else to do I would find labs to test the content of some or all of the waters and water containers and pipes I have reacted to to compare with my safe water, but I don’t have the time to pursue that even if I did have the money.

      Anyway it was very nice of you to post, but unfortunately this issue does not have a solution as simple as finding “clean” water. 😦

      • Wow. I have been brainstorming my own allergy issues, but they aren’t as severe at all. Almost wonder if you could boil and filter spring water running through the countryside, though I guess that’s hit or miss. SteriPen probably has too many chemicals in the plastic.

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