Finding a safer home away from home

Vacations should be fun. But for people with asthma, allergies or chemical sensitivities, finding a home away from home that isn’t full of chemical fragrances or surrounded by pesticide perfect lawns isn’t easy.

Luckily, there are now sources of information which make it easier to locate safer accommodations. The Green Hotel Association ( has been operating for 15 years. Although its website reflects only environmental concerns like saving water by not changing towels every day, Green Hotels has excellent guidelines for its members which include eliminating pesticide use, and using safer cleaning products. According to Patsy Griffin, President of Green Hotels, 80% of their enquiries are received from people who are chemically sensitive, or looking to avoid synthetic fragrances.

There’s no guarantee that a Green Hotel will follow the association’s guidelines. Griffin encourages travelers to call ahead and ask if their needs can be accommodated. The Green Hotel website includes a contact name for each hotel, often the executive housekeeper. Finding the right person to speak to is key. It can be a frustrating experience trying to get information from reservation clerks.

The Safer Travel Directory is a print resource, developed by Nancy Westrom. The Directory is written with the chemically sensitive traveler in mind. It includes a list of questions the sensitive traveler may want to ask to determine whether an accommodation will be suitable. The directory has a three star rating system which indicates how much safer than ordinary a listing is. Three stars means no pesticides or herbicides are used, as well as safer building materials. Most three star ratings are run by someone who has allergies or chemical sensitivities. Westrom also includes a variety of resources including eco-villages and other websites which might lead to safer travel accommodations. The directory is available from for $17 US.

The Environmentally Safer Accommodations Directory grew out of Francoise Gourd’s experience with homelessness. Gourd spent months living in a friend’s back yard when she could not find housing due to her chemical sensitivity. After Gourd finally found a safe home in Barrhaven Housing, Ottawa, she decided to develop a directory to safer accommodation, in the hope of saving others from her experience. The Safer Accommodations Directory is frequently used by people looking for safer travel accommodations. It can be downloaded free from MCS-Canadian Sources (, where LaVerne Chappell who runs the site keeps the Directory current.

Both The Safer Travel Directory and the Environmentally Safer Accommodations Directory get much of their information from sensitive travelers. They ask anyone who has had positive experiences finding chemically safer accommodations to let them know.

Another potential source of safer accommodation is This international directory features B&Bs, farms, guest houses and small hotels. A mini check of two Nova Scotia accommodations confirmed that, at least in some cases, organic B & Bs and farms are more likely to use less toxic cleaning products and detergents. A second organic website, allows the traveler to search by city for hotels and B&Bs, as well as sources of organic food.

No single source provides listings for every destination, and some listings are out of date. Ingenuity is needed to find safer accommodations. There are increasing numbers of smoke free accommodations, and some hotels now feature “EverGreen” rooms with air, water and shower filters. Surprisingly, these rooms often also have carpet, and are cleaned with the same products as other rooms. Rooms which are designated pet free and smoke free may be less likely to be cleaned with extra-strong fragrances to cover smells.

You can find Nova Scotia listings in all these sources, in numbers far higher than many larger locations. Nova Scotia’s Chanterelle Country Inn, a pesticide and scent free accommodation in Baddeck recently won a provincial award for sustainable tourism. Second Paradise is another safer retreat, with cottages, a farmhouse and facilities for group workshops. There are at least two retreat and program centres in Nova Scotia which are pesticide free and use safer cleaning products: Tatamagouche Centre and Dorje Denma Ling.

The numbers of people looking for healthier travel accommodations is growing, as the population with asthma, chemical sensitivities and related diseases increases. When the NY Times runs an article on the demand for hotel accommodations for the chemically sensitive, that’s evidence that this is no longer a fringe issue.

Do we dare to dream of a day when Nova Scotia Tourism’s Doers and Dreamers Guide includes symbols to indicate pesticide-free premises (perhaps a ladybug?) and scent-free cleaning and laundry (a smiling nose?), as it now indicates smoke free accommodations.