We pulled off another (ok, just our second) major road trip this summer. Using our pop up camper, some friends’ homes, and the occasional hotel, we toured the southeast for two weeks. We were largely successful, in that we all had fun, spent a lot of time outdoors, and I had few chemical reactions. We did not win the food intolerance battle – my daughter had one severe reaction unfortunately. But that was one bad day out of fourteen; and while I hate that it was my daughter who suffered rather than me, it is probably an average statistic for a family vacation.
For every night that I slept away from home, I had to ensure a few essential things in advance. The accommodations had to be free of new carpet or upholstery, the kitchen could not have gas appliances, there would have to be chlorine and fluoride free drinking water, I would need easy access to fresh outside air, and I would need allergy safe food for the next few meals stocked in either my electric plug-in cooler or a refrigerator. It’s like planning for a traveling apocalypse.Here’s what normally happens when we check into a hotel. I put on my mask, we check in, we open windows, I go walk around outside for 15-20 minutes until the room air has some fresh stuff mixed into it and hopefully some of the bad stuff has left. The cleaning products used by this chain do not seem to bother me too much, though I would not want to try it for more than a few nights in a row.
We did a 3 night stint camping in Deep Creek near Bryson City, NC. It was as fun as it looks. That creek was cold but kept us entertained for days.
Getting chlorine free showers is a problem for extended trips. I can take the occasional poisoned shower but not multiple days in a row, unless I want open sores on my scalp and a blistered throat. Sometimes I try to bring a portable shower filter, but I cannot rely on being able to attach it to whatever campground or hotel shower I am using. Frequently, I just embrace the dirt. This trip I also tried a solar shower; I collected cold creek water (I could have also purchased a lot of bottled water) and warmed it in the sun for a few hours then performed this trick. That’s me trying to wash my hair using a bag hanging from a tree. Glamorous.
We also managed a guided rafting trip down the Nantahala River – so beautiful. And we hiked around in Joyce Kilmer National Forest so my son could see some of the largest trees east of the Mississippi. Then we spent an evening in Asheville visiting old friends who have a new addition to their family.
Next up, camping at a Jellystone in the Shenandoah Valley. We had some amazing hikes and rock scrambles along the Skyline Drive. But the kids also had a blast in the campground itself which was loaded with pools, water slide, arcade, huge trampoline thingy, putt putt golf, and laser tag. The weather took a bizarre unseasonable cold turn, which made for an open breezy camper in the day and snuggly camping at night. We loved it. Unfortunately, that also meant that the campfires were everywhere and the smoke can be a real problem for the chemically sensitive. Fortunately, it was a big campground and our site was tucked away on the edge. Still, my eyes and lungs were getting twitchy and I was ready to leave after a few nights.
Now we come to the one very bad day. Because of our extensive food allergies, we very rarely risk trying something new in a restaurant for either my daughter or me and we were reminded why this day. I checked the ingredients in advance and they should have been fine; it must have been cross contamination in a big way and she reacted in a big way. There was vomiting, pain, rashes, and then eventually she just turned the color of a lobster and ran a very high fever. The whole reaction was over in 5 hours but they were long hours. She bounced back the next day like the rock star that she is and we kept going. We spent some time with friends in Richmond, VA and then Durham, NC, mixing kid friendly activities with long conversation with old friends.
We wrapped up the trip by renting a vacation home in Leipers Fork, TN. Some of my extended family from Nashville and Chattanooga joined us in the big house and huge yard complete with ponds, patios, porches, and badminton net. It was rather decadent but allowed us to do laundry and cook our own food in a full kitchen. I researched the house quite a bit before we rented it, making sure my previously stated checklist was met and it turned out wonderfully.
Between the chemical and food sensitivities, it is effortful to take our show on the road. There have been other trips that were simply not worth the consequences. But it is so good for my kids to see us work through our limitations and still have fun. It is good for the people I encounter to see me with my mask, hear us ask about gluten free entrees, or watch me struggle with a solar shower. In some small way, maybe we raised some awareness as we journeyed. If none of that is true, I still loved the change of scenery and family time enough to have made it all worthwhile.