Travel Better With Allergies
What to pack, where to go, and what to know before leaving on your next trip—near or far.
In general, having allergies is not optimal—but dealing with them while on vacation? That’s the absolute worst: Struggle-busing it with stuffy sinuses can really throw a wrench into all the fun-having! With this in mind, and with travel season starting up again soon (albeit slowly due to COVID-19), now is the perfect time to talk about how you can keep your allergies in check while you’re on a trip. Of course, because we’re still in the middle of a vaccine rollout, many of us won’t be globetrotting this spring or summer, but the advice ahead still applies even if you’re just exploring your local state park.
Keep reading for tips on how to manage your allergies while traveling—including advice and product recommendations from physicians who treat allergy symptoms every day.
Where to Go
Before we get into the nitty-gritty of what to pack and what to avoid while traveling with allergies, let’s discuss perhaps the most important part of all: where to go. It should go without saying, but your best bet is picking a low-pollen place, such as Colorado Springs, CO, Portland, OR, or Seattle, WA, all of which have low pollen counts. (Pro tip: Find out how a city ranks on the pollen front.)
If flying isn’t in the cards yet due to the pandemic (check travel restrictions by entering a zip code, city, or state), might we suggest road-tripping it to a National Park? Or a major landmark like the Grand Canyon? So long as you check the pollen count first, exploring America’s stunning landscapes can be an excellent warm-weather travel option for allergy sufferers.
Of course, you’ll also want to choose a destination where pollution isn’t a problem, as poor air quality can definitely exacerbate allergy symptoms. A few cities where pollution is extremely low include Honolulu, HI, Burlington, VT, Bangor, ME, and Wilmington, NC (all of which have outstanding sights to offer), so definitely consider that when making your travel plans.
Humidity can increase outdoor mold spore counts which can trigger allergy symptoms in mold-allergic people, so keep that in mind before booking a trip to New Orleans, LA, or Houston, TX, which are two of the most humid cities in the United States. Alternatively, if you're allergic to pollen the moisture in the air in humid climates can keep pollen down and less likely to irritate you.
It’s worth noting that travel guidelines and restrictions are constantly changing, so you should definitely double check before attempting to go anywhere in the coming months. Additionally, it couldn’t hurt to purchase travel insurance if you’re going to be flying, just in case you have to cancel last minute because you were exposed to COVID-19, or because the country you’re visiting won’t accept U.S. citizens at the last minute.
As of now, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) still recommends delaying travel as much as possible due to how high cases have been; however, the latest travel requirements state that U.S. citizens are allowed to fly—just not without a mask and proof of a negative COVID-19 test.
What to Bring
First things first, make sure your carry-on bag is stocked with some basic allergy-fighting necessities, such as tissues, eye drops, an inhaler if you suffer from asthma, and of course, an antihistamine. “I really like the fast-dissolving cetirizine tablets for my allergies,” says Karl Saardi, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist based in the Washington, D.C., area. Common antihistamine brands of cetirizine include Zyrtec and Aller-Tec. You can also get a prescription-strength medication from your doctor if your symptoms are severe and don’t tend to respond to over-the-counter solutions.
“If your sinuses frequently suffer and you’re going to be flying, take a decongestant 30 minutes before takeoff to help with symptoms,” advises Tania Mucci-Elliott, M.D., an allergy and infectious disease doctor at New York University Langone Health. Sudafed is a highly effective option. Keep in mind that it may be kept behind the counter at your drugstore. Flonase’s Allergy Relief Nasal Spray, a is a solid option that combats stuffiness, as well as pretty much all allergy symptoms. Flonase’s Allergy Relief Nasal Spray (a steriod) is another solid option that combats stuffiness, as well as pretty much all allergy symptoms.
Dr. Mucci-Elliot says it’s also a good idea to pack your own pillowcase, especially if you have sensitive skin that’s prone to hives and other adverse reactions. “This can be helpful as many people can react to detergents they’re not used to,” she explains. “On that note, you should also pack your own laundry detergent if you’re staying at an Airbnb or VRBO.”
If you’re visiting a warm climate, this could trigger pollen allergies outdoors, as well as mold or dust-mite allergies indoors, says Dr. Mucci-Elliot. For this, she recommends packing your own dust mite-proof allergen covers for pillows and mattresses, as well as an antihistamine (OTC or prescription).
Lastly, no matter where you’re headed, make sure you don’t leave home without your hand sanitizer (and ideally some hand cream so that your skin doesn’t dry out), as this is one of the simplest ways to combat germs and potential allergens. Additionally, be sure to bring an effective face mask to protect yourself and others against the continued spread of COVID-19. Some facial coverings, like the Respro Sportsta Mask, utilize a special type of filtration that blocks air pollution and other common allergens, so it’s a great option for allergy sufferers.
What to Avoid
If you already know your allergy triggers, awesome, but if you’re not necessarily sure, it’s best to avoid or tackle some of the most common culprits, which include dust mites and mold, harsh fragrances, and certain types of vegetation. “Poison ivy is the one [plant] most people are familiar with, but the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has a state-by-state list of noxious plants to avoid that can be helpful,” says Dr. Saardi. Poison ivy isn't an airborn allergen, though; you have to actually touch the plant to get a reaction.
Another hot tip from Dr. Saardi? “Most weather apps have a pollen and air quality index rating, so checking those out before you travel can be beneficial.” For instance, you can use this information to help you plan activities around high-pollen or pollution days—as well as to make decisions about whether or not to take your allergy medication before leaving the house.
If you’re traveling via car, consider avoiding the road during high-traffic periods—like the middle of the day—as this is when air pollution is typically at its worst due to so many vehicles being on the street. That said, if you must travel during the middle of the day, don’t drive with the windows down. Instead, use your air conditioner on the recirculation setting, as this will keep pollen from the outside air out of your car.
As far as toiletries are concerned, Dr. Saardi highly recommends bringing your own in order to avoid dealing with the scented products that are typically found at most hotels. “Fragrances in toiletries, harsh hand soaps, and disinfectants can all cause skin irritation or true allergies,” he explains. “Best to bring your own to be safe.”
Finally, and this one should go without saying, but you definitely want to steer clear of any smoking-friendly rooms in hotels. In fact if you’re prone to bad allergies, it’s probably in your best interest to stay at a hotel that’s completely smoke-free for your own peace of mind.
Additional Tips for Traveling With Allergies
Aim to stay in a sunny room if you have mold allergies, as it’s far less likely to thrive in a dry, sun-drenched place.
Check your hotel or Airbnb’s pet policy before booking if you’re allergic to dander.
If you have super-severe allergies and/or asthma, talk to your doctor before traveling to determine a plan of action so you can stay safe and healthy on your trip.
Consider bringing your own cleaning supplies if you’re sensitive to certain chemicals.
Poor Air Quality and Allergies: Journal of Toxicologic Pathology. (2017.) “Environmental pollution and allergies.” ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5545671/