Travel Tips and Tricks for Those With Mast Cell Activation Syndrome and Histamine Intolerance
If you have Mast Cell Activation Syndrome (MCAS) or Histamine Intolerance, you know how challenging it can be to travel. And these days many of us have new concerns about traveling.
Have you ever been doing well with your health, only to be set back by a trip? You’re not alone in this!
I’ve done a lot of traveling around the world. Sometimes those trips went well. But sometimes I got much worse.
I usually do well with car trips. I can bring all my food with me in a cooler. And without having to worry about a weight limit for my luggage, I can bring all the extra things I need to make my stay easier.
Things like my own sheets and pillow. That keeps me from having to worry about detergents and chemicals on hotel linens.
And I can bring full sizes of my cleaning supplies and beauty products.
But that’s an ideal situation. Sometimes you’ll want or need to go somewhere, and this won’t be possible.
Several years ago, I went to India for 5 weeks. I couldn’t bring a carload of stuff with me. Especially perishable foods.
The trip was an experience I’ll never forget. But I did face some challenges.
It was hard to get low histamine food, for example.
There was also lot of mold. And then I got dysentery and severe dehydration. It took about 6 months for me to get close to being back to baseline again. Not even well…just baseline.
After that, I chose less adventurous trips. But I didn’t want Mast Cell Activation Syndrome and Histamine Intolerance to ruin my love of travel!
So I had to learn how to travel differently. I had to think about what my biggest triggers were and how I could deal with them.
There are several mast cell triggers that can be associated with travel.
A few we’ll look at today are:
- Chemical triggers
Those are just a few. Other things can trigger mast cells, too. Things like vibrations. Think road rumblings and airplane engines.
Low oxygen levels you experience on a flight can also be a trigger.
And there are even more you might be able to think of.
So, what can you do if you have Mast Cell Activation Syndrome or Histamine Intolerance and still want to enjoy some beach time or a weekend in the city?
There are several steps you can take to support your health when traveling.
In this blog post we’ll look at:
- Common mast cell/histamine triggers
- Tips and tricks you can use to minimize those triggers
- General tips for healthier and easier travel
Let’s start with looking at those five triggers I mentioned above. And let’s look at what you can do to keep each one in check.
Let’s start with stress. That can be a trigger well before you even step foot in the airport or put your luggage in the car.
Stress and Travel – What to Know if You Have Mast Cell Activation Syndrome and Histamine Intolerance
Trigger #1: Stress
You might start having reactions before you even leave for vacation. Preparing for a trip can be stressful…even if you are looking forward to it. And stress is a big trigger for mast cells.
The sympathetic nervous system is the state of “fight, flight, or freeze.” It’s active when you feel stressed or under pressure.
When you are stuck in sympathetic mode, your body is in an emergency state. It doesn’t have time or resources to deal with healing. And this sympathetic state actually INCREASES histamine and mast cell activation.
This is why it’s so important to be able to shift to the parasympathetic mode. The parasympathetic nervous system is the opposite of the sympathetic nervous system.
It’s the rest, heal, digest state.
Did you notice the word heal in there?
This is why the parasympathetic mode is so important in Mast Cell Activation Syndrome.
I’ll talk more about getting into that parasympathetic mode in just a bit. First, let’s look at some practical tips you can take to minimize stress when it comes to travel.
Tips and Tricks to Reduce Stress
Let’s start with some travel planning tips.
To help reduce your stress load, you can:
- Make a master packing list
When you have Mast Cell Activation Syndrome and Histamine Intolerance, you won’t be able to grab a backpack and hit the road. You must do some planning.
So, put some time aside well before your trip starts to make some lists.
Start by looking at your daily schedule. What products do you use? Then start your list with those items. Pay careful attention to the ones you will have a tough time replacing if you forget them.
- Medications and supplements
- Products like your toxin-free toothpaste, make-up, shampoo, sun protection, soap, etc
- Medications and supplements
- Any other specialty item you might need. This can be anything from a compass for hiking trips to prescription scuba masks for diving.
Then look at items like clothes and shoes. Basic internet searches can help you find lots of tips for planning outfits.
Pro-tip: Look up what the weather is like for the time of year you plan on being there. This can help you decide if you’ll need things like an umbrella, sun hat or winter coat.
Put a copy of this with your suitcase so when the time comes to get packing, you’ll have it handy.
A couple other tips for packing and planning.
- Pack several days in advance.
Get out those lists you made. Give yourself a pat on the back because you’ve done a lot of work already! Whew! One less thing to stress about in the moments leading up to your trip!
Packing several days in advance gives you plenty of time to start getting items ready at your leisure. No rushing around looking for your swimsuit or washing your favorite jeans at the last minute. And that means peace of mind.
With those lists already made, you just check off those items as they go into the suitcase!
And if you aren’t up all night packing, you can get a good night’s rest. Sleep is so important to maintain good health. You can read more about the importance of good sleep here:
- Plan, but don’t over-plan.
Allow yourself to relax on your trip. Don’t over-plan each day. I found that planning 1 adventure or outing a day works for me. Then I enjoy my non-scheduled time however I want.
If I’m feeling energetic, I might look at the little shops nearby. Or I might stop in an art gallery off the beaten path.
And if I need to rest, I can sit at the beach with a book.
If you plan your trip like this, you’re giving yourself permission to take care of yourself. And that frame of mind can reduce stress, too!
Next let’s look a little deeper into how you can get into that state of rest, digest, heal: the parasympathetic nervous system.
- Support your nervous system.
The vagus nerve is the main activator of the parasympathetic nervous system. It’s the nerve that connects your brain with your heart and gut. It’s the longest nerve that runs through your whole body.
The vagus nerve is a super strong anti-inflammatory agent in the body. And it calms mast cells.
When the vagus nerve is doing its job communicating with the body, everything calms down. Including your mast cells.
A wide variety of exercises can improve vagal nerve signaling. One exercise is something called Box Breathing or Tactical Breath. This is a good one to know because you can do it anywhere, anytime, with no extra equipment or programs.
You can read more about that here:
Breathing techniques are one way to lower stress and help get you to that parasympathetic state. But if you have Mast Cell Activation Syndrome, you’ll probably need more support for getting to that parasympathetic state.
That’s why I’ve put together a Master Class: Nervous System Reboot. In the class, I lead you through several exercises like different breathing techniques.
And I help you build your own personalized practice. I offer suggestions for different supports that will help you depending on the level of support your nervous system needs. To learn more or to purchase the class you can click the button below.
Next, let’s look at another common trigger you’ll come across when traveling. Foods.
Food Triggers and How to Avoid Them on Vacation – For Those With Mast Cell Activation Syndrome or Histamine Intolerance
Trigger #2: Foods
When traveling, it is harder to be fully in control of your foods. You may be eating higher histamine, higher oxalate, and higher lectin foods on vacation.
And if your body isn’t keeping up with breaking down histamine in your gut, your “histamine bucket” might start to overflow.
Remember that histamine bucket analogy? If you have an empty bucket under a dripping faucet, you don’t have flooding. But if you put a bucket full of water under the dripping faucet, just a few drops more and water is all over the place.
That’s like histamine levels in your body. When that bucket overflows (too much histamine not being broken down), it can lead to symptoms like rashes, headaches, diarrhea, and fatigue, just to name a few.
A few years ago, I went to Seoul, South Korea. I had a wonderful time!
But I wasn’t fully in control of what I ate. I was being hosted and I wanted to be a good guest. Food is a very important part of Korean culture. I didn’t want to upset my hosts.
So I had a lot of delicious, but very high histamine foods: soy sauce, kimchi, beef, spinach, fish.
And of course, many dishes are cooked for long periods of time, raising the histamine levels.
My health had been getting much better before the trip. I thought I’d be ok.
But I ended up having a major flare. I over-taxed my body with long flights, 18-hour days, and so many high histamine foods.
I’ve heard many similar stories from clients, too. Like me, they wanted to be a good guest or they didn’t want to burden anyone.
But you need to balance being accommodating with maintaining good health.
Here are some ways I avoid food triggers when I travel now. And I share some tips for when you dine out or are being hosted.
Tips and Tricks for Food Triggers
- Bring your safe foods list with you.
Be sure to take the Mast Cell 360 Low Histamine Diet Foods List with you. This way, if you aren’t sure what to eat, you can check your list.
I’d recommend printing it out. That way, if you don’t have internet access, you can still see the list.
- Choose accommodations with a kitchen.
If you have a kitchen, you can prepare or bring your own food. This can make a big difference. I’ve stayed in Marriott Residence Inns and Hilton Homewood Suites. Both places have full kitchens. Or you might look into options like VRBO.
I’ve had fewer issues when I was able to make all my own food. I’ve done that a couple ways.
1. I freeze meals ahead of time. Frozen solid meals are ok through security at an airport. Just use a cooler bag and solid ice packs. Don’t use the gel ones. Those aren’t allowed through security at an airport.
You can also pack frozen meals in a cooler for a car trip.
Just check the customs regulations for your destination.
You can also talk with your doctor about writing you a medical note stating that special dietary requirements are necessary for you.
That can help a lot.
2. Go shopping when you arrive. Find a health food grocery store and get the things you’ll need for your stay there. With a full kitchen at your destination, you’ll have a fridge, freezer, and stove. You can shop fresh and have plenty of safe foods to prepare. When I’m booking my accommodations, I look to see how close they are to good markets.
- For dining in restaurants:
Being polite goes a long way. I always light-heartedly tell the server: “I have complicated food allergies, but I promise I’ll be very easy to deal with otherwise.” This usually gets a laugh and they are always very accommodating.
Ask for what you need. Most restaurants can modify any dish on their menu. I’ve even had restaurants create a new dish for me from the ingredients they have stocked.
Everyone in the restaurant will appreciate it if you do your part to help them help you. Let me give you an example.
Sometimes I’ll look at a menu and I won’t see a low histamine meal.
They might have an offering of beef with a creamy broccoli and mushroom sauté. And another choice which offers chicken in alfredo sauce served over wheat pasta with a side of asparagus.
But neither meal, as offered on the menu, will work for me. But what it tells me is that they do have foods I can eat.
They have chicken, broccoli, and asparagus. I can eat those things safely. When a simple substitution isn’t obvious, I will make a written list to help. Here’s what I do.
Start by looking at what’s on the menu. Stick to these items. For example, don’t ask for arugula and blueberries if you don’t see them anywhere on the menu.
Based on what they have, I’ll write what I can have on one side of the paper and what I can’t have on the other. Like this:
I can eat:
I am allergic to:
Then I politely ask if the chef can make me a meal with the things I can eat.
That’s where a light-hearted explanation to the server ahead of time can help them understand…and get you what you need.
- Eating meals prepared by a host:
Disclosing health issues can help a host understand you aren’t being rude. But explaining Mast Cell Activation Syndrome is probably more than you want to get into, especially if there is a translator.
You might stick to just saying you have a lot of severe food allergies.
- Bring extra mast cell supporting supplements with you. You can check out my Master Class: Top 8 Mast Cell Supporting Supplements. Supplements can help lower histamine levels, help with digestion, and support mast cells.
Be sure to work with your provider when onboarding new supplements. You’ll want to find what works for you.
And you’ll want to know this well in advance of your trip. I wouldn’t advise starting a whole new routine right before your big trip.
Next let’s look at another trigger you might find when you get to your destination – mold.
Dealing with Mold When Traveling – What to Know When You Have Mast Cell Activation Syndrome or Histamine Intolerance
Trigger: #3 Mold
Unfortunately, hotel rooms often have mold. The carpets in each room are shampooed frequently. But they don’t always dry fully.
And where there is moisture, there is usually mold.
Beach or lakeside rentals are also likely to have mold because of the surrounding environment.
Mold can be a trigger for Mast Cell Activation Syndrome and Histamine Intolerance by:
- Disrupting the hormones
- Dysregulating and dampening immune response
- Nervous system disruption
- Clogging detox pathways
And exposure to mold can send the body into “Cell Danger Response.” In cell danger response, pathways in the body start to shut down to prevent mold from spreading.
You can learn more about mold here:
You can take a few steps to help with mold, though.
Tips and Tricks for Mold
- Ask (very nicely) to change hotel rooms if your room has a musty odor. Like with restaurants, being kind and polite with a brief and gentle explanation of your health concerns will go a long way.
- Treat the room for mold. I bring a BioBalance Travel Mister for Mold with me when I travel.
Save 10% off with coupon code: MastCell360
Just follow the instructions on the label.
Mold is just one type of toxin you might be exposed to. There are also chemical toxins.
Next, let’s look at where you might see those.
Chemical Triggers and What You Can Do if You Have Mast Cell Activation Syndrome or Histamine Intolerance
Trigger #4: Chemicals
You are probably going to encounter some toxic chemicals when you travel.
I don’t mean chemical toxins like radiation leaks or industrial waste. (Although, you want to avoid those at all costs, too!)
I mean those hidden toxins that we can encounter in our day to day lives.
You’ve likely worked hard to reduce these in your own home.
I’m talking about toxins like those found in some beauty products. Things like: fragrance, aluminum, and nanoparticles.
For example, shampoos and conditioners in the hotel are not likely to be MCAS friendly. Nor are the cleaning products hotels use.
There might be people on the plane or your tour bus wearing a lot of fragrance.
With Mast Cell Activation Syndrome, it’s likely your mast cells are haywire. That means they are in an alert and reactive state constantly.
You can learn more about haywire mast cells here: Haywire Mast Cells Block Healing with Mast Cell Activation Syndrome and Histamine Intolerance
Remember how we talked about the nervous system before? Well, a haywire nervous system can cause a lot of chemical sensitivities. (but also sensitivities to foods, supplements, and medications.)
If you do have sensitivities, you’ll want to plan accordingly. Here are some tips for what to do to reduce your exposure to chemicals when you take a trip.
Tips and Tricks for Chemicals
- Let the hotel staff know you are allergic to most cleaning products.
Ask for your room to be serviced without cleaning products. This reduces your exposure to chemicals.
- Bring your own pillow and sheets.
Traveling with your own pillow can be a comfort. And that little bit of extra comfort helps you sleep better. Plus you won’t have to worry about an unsupportive hotel pillow.
Bringing your own sheets can help reduce your exposure to chemicals and fragrances in laundry detergent or bleach.
I keep an extra set in my suitcase for travel. These are good ones:
Let’s look at one last trigger and then I’ll share some more general travel tips with you. Let’s look at germs.
Germs and How to Avoid Contact When Traveling – For Those With Mast Cell Activation Syndrome or Histamine Intolerance
Trigger #5: Germs
Cold viruses can survive for around seven days. Flu viruses can survive around 24 hours.
Here’s something you’ll want to know. Viruses and bacteria generally live longer on metal and plastic then on fabric.
So how does that affect you when you travel?
Think about this. The previous guest in your room checked out at 11am. She was sick with a cold. You checked in at 4pm. Those germs can still be alive and well in that room when you get there.
And you’ve probably noticed that anytime you get sick, you have a flare.
This is because germs are a bit of a double whammy if you have Mast Cell Activation Syndrome or Histamine Intolerance.
You might end up dealing with a stomach bug or a cold…
AND you flare up on top of it.
Bottom line: germs make you sick. Being sick causes mast cells to activate. After all, that is one of the very important jobs of mast cells. They are important workers in your body’s immune system response.
But when you have Mast Cell Activation Syndrome, being sick can send you into a downward spiral.
Your mast cells start to release chemical mediators. Some of these mediators are inflammatory. Inflammation causes more histamine release. More histamine release can cause more mast cell activation.
And on and on. Meanwhile you continue to experience a list of symptoms which you don’t want when you are on vacation. (or ever!)
Whether on a bus, a plane, or in a hotel, there can be germs in the air and on surfaces. Here are ways to take care of yourself when you have Mast Cell Activation Syndrome or Histamine Intolerance.
Tips and Tricks for Germs
Avoid touching surfaces and then touching your face. You especially want to avoid touching your mouth or eyes. It’s surprising how much we touch our face without even realizing it. To help with this, I wear gloves.
- Wearing gloves. I take several pairs of this type of white cotton gloves* with me when I travel. I change them after:
- Boarding the plane
- Disinfecting my seat area
- Using the restroom
- Exiting the plane
I put the used gloves in a plastic storage bag to carry home with me. I like that they are reusable. When I get back home, they go in the washing machine to be sanitized. (I wear these at the grocery and gas pump, too.)
- Disinfect your seat and the surrounding surfaces.
I take Seventh Generation Disinfecting Multi-Surface Wipes* with me when I travel.
You can make your own, too if you prefer. To do this, you’ll need Seventh Generation Disinfecting Multi-Surface Cleaner* and paper towels. Just presoak some paper towels in the cleaner ahead of time and keep them in a plastic, sealing storage bag.
While wearing your gloves, wipe down the:
- Seat including headrest, back rest, and arm rests
- Seatbelt and buckle
- Air nozzle and call button
- Tray table
- Seat pocket and any contents you’ll be handling like safety guides
- Window shade if you are in a window seat
Put the used wipes in a bag and discard.
- Disinfect your room as soon as you arrive.
You can use Seventh Generation Disinfecting Multi-Surface Wipes* to spray down surfaces like:
- Door knobs and handles
- Light switches
- Dressers: handles, surfaces and even inside drawers
- Refrigerator, both inside and outside
- Sinks, tub, toilet
- Key card
- Kitchen area if staying in a room with a kitchen
Just be sure to secure your wipes in a couple layers of sealed gallon-size storage bags. It helps protect your belongings in case of leaks.
- Turn the air flow on high during your flight.
Air that doesn’t move concentrates germs. Use your disinfectant wipe to turn the air flow on high. This will help keep the air moving so germs don’t linger.
You might feel overwhelmed reading about all the things that can cause a flare up when you travel.
But you can have fun and stay healthy when you travel!
Your trip might be as simple as a day trip to a family reunion. Or you might be planning ten days abroad. Either way, you can safely enjoy your trip.
Here are some final tips I have for you for a safer and more enjoyable trip.
General Travel Tips When You Have Mast Cell Activation Syndrome and Histamine Intolerance
- Stay hydrated.
Dehydration can weaken your immune system. It is easy to get dehydrated, especially on flights. The air in the plane can be very dry.
Bring extra water on the plane with you. Yes, buying water at the airport is expensive. But it is worth it for good health.
And did you know that water is a natural antihistamine? Drinking water will help decrease histamine reactions.
For each 2-3 hours of flight or drive time, drink 1-2 liters of water. And drink plenty of water after you arrive.
Also, avoid caffeine. It’s dehydrating.
- Drink H2 Water
Hydrogen water keeps you more hydrated. It is also an excellent anti-inflammatory support.
I’ve used 4-6 tablets throughout my travel day. If you are trying this for the first time, just try one tablet. Just dissolve the tablet in 8 oz of water. Then drink after it stops bubbling.
H2 water is very safe. The only contraindication is SIBO. Don’t use if you have active SIBO.
I’ve used these Active H2 Hydrogen Tablets.
- Preload Mast Cell and Histamine Supports and Increase During Your Trip
It’s important you know that this blog post is for informational and educational purposes. It’s not meant to treat any health condition or to be prescriptive for anyone. Always be sure to work with your healthcare practitioner.
Put together your own Mast Cell Activation Syndrome or Histamine Intolerance supplements. Increase the supplements you can safely do. Increasing 2-3 days before travel and throughout your trip can be helpful.
These are in my own “Travel Kit.” I can’t know if they’d be right for you, though. Be sure to do you own research and talk with your Health Care Provider first about whether these are right for you.
And here a few extra tips for when you have to stay with family or friends.
- Let them know you have a medical condition.
You don’t have to go into specifics. Just say you have an immune disorder that results in a lot of serious allergies.
You don’t need them to understand fully. You just need to them to know that you have specific needs to be able to stay healthy.
- Be Kind, Clear, and Grateful. Sometimes, family can be pushy. They may try to push you into something because they don’t really understand. “Oh, one piece of cake won’t hurt!” I’ve heard it before.
But explaining clearly but with kindness can help you and them. Simple phrases like these are good to keep tucked away in your brain so you’re ready if it comes up.
“I’ve been dealing with this for a long time. And I really appreciate you being supportive while I’m visiting. Thank you for trying to help me. And I don’t want to make this hard on you. I’ll be glad to take care of my own needs while I’m here. And I really appreciate staying here. I just need help with (fill in the blanks of what you need).”
- Ask if they can remove scented products from the room you’ll be in.
Let your family know you are allergic to scented candles, plugins, and laundry detergent. Ask them politely to not have these in your room.
- Bring your own sheets.
If you are sensitive to scented laundry detergent, you may need to bring your own sheets. Just let your host know you have an allergy to detergent so you usually just bring your own sheets to make it easy. Ask what size you should bring.
- Let your family know you have food guidelines you need to follow.
Let your family know that because you have food allergies, you might need to bring your own food. You can help ease their worry by letting them know it’s no trouble for you. And you can let them know you are happy to prepare your own food to stay healthy.
And if you think you will be dining out…prepare them ahead of time. Don’t wait until that hectic time when everyone is getting ready.
You can let them know that giving you a couple restaurant options is helpful. You will be able to look at menus ahead of time and make better choices for your health.
In the end, no matter where you are going, how you are getting there, and how far away…enjoy your journey.
I hope these tips and tricks will help you do that!
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