How to Conduct a Mold Avoidance Sabbatical: Using the Locations Effect to Heal
This article will provide guiding principles to choosing a location and type of lodging for a Mould Avoidance/Locations Effect sabbatical. I will also share some of the tips and tricks I have found over the years.
Those two sabbaticals are not always the same thing, but here I am talking about them as if you are doing both at the same time. This article will still be helpful if you’re looking to do a locations effect sabbatical with only moderate mold avoidance.
Over the past 10 years, I have watched people with CFS, Fibromyalgia, Lyme disease and MCS conduct mold avoidance experiments. It seems to be very rare for people affected by these diseases to not be affected by mold and other environmental factors, like off-gassing and the quality of the outdoor air.
This post contains affiliate links to relevant books and products that I use and recommend. Upon purchase, I earn a small commission through affiliate links at no extra cost to you.
To conduct this sabbatical will need to find temporary safe accommodation in the cleanest environment you can access. Erik Johnson, who discovered the connection between mold, the locations effect and CFS, talks about a “Mobile Environmental Control Unit” which is a “safe house” trailer or RV to use as a baseline.
I have written a post on mobile safe home and safe trailers, a customized trailer, cargo trailers and vans. A tent is a good baseline for many. It is not easy to find a trailer that meets the needs of those very sensitive to mold as well as chemicals.
I help clients choose between trailers, tent camping, or more conventional options – anywhere from glamping to rental houses.
A Beginner’s Guide to Mold Avoidance: Techniques Used by Hundreds of Chronic Multisystem Illness Sufferers to Improve Their Health is the book you want to start with when conducting a mold avoidance sabbatical.
I help people through my Consulting go through the process of preparing and undertaking a sabbatical. I can help you decide what to bring what not to bring, where to go and what types of accommodations to try, depending on the severity of your conditions and what’s feasible for you.
Here is my Visual Packing List of Some of My Favorite & Unusual Supplies I Bring with me on a Sabbatical.
(See the comment box on each image to see my notes on each one).
Avoidance Test Run
Almost everyone I know with CFS/Fibro or Lyme has felt better in a “good location.” Some people will say they felt 80% better in Cayman Islands or had many symptoms go away while camping in a national park or while vacationing in the Rockies or Aruba.
There are many more stories on the Locations Effect Facebook group from people who have felt much better from CFS and related illnesses using this method.
From watching this over the years, I can say that pristine outdoor air is where you get the big boost, but you still have to be as particular about the indoor air.
In a good location, sometimes in a fantastic location, you may have a higher tolerance for regular housing. But not everyone is so lucky.
For those who are already hypersensitive or are coming from a house that is less moldy than most, a lot of caution has to be taken before assuming that.
Something I feel that has been lacking in support groups is experience in how to choose safe housing for this experiment. Buildings the world over are moldy. The majority of trailers are moldy as well. So to step out and try this experiment is not so simple if you are not starting out with a tent.
If you have MCS and or EMF sensitivity this is even more difficult.
A Few Common Mistakes are:
- Going to a good location but choosing a regular hotel or rental online that has not been vetted or even carefully analyzed. It should never be assumed that simply choosing something that looks clean online is not moldy. Most buildings in almost every climate are moldy.
- Many people who are sick with these types of illnesses have traveled, whether it’s domestically or internationally, and have often felt better in a new location. That is a huge clue. However, it’s also very possible that you have traveled and not felt better anywhere else either because you were going to similar locations, bad locations, bringing your stuff, or you were choosing regular housing that was moldy or toxic. If you don’t think the locations effect applies to you because you have traveled before, that is not enough info to go by if you have chosen regular hotels and rentals in the past.
- It’s a mistake to think that because a climate is drier or because you’re going to a beach location it will be better. Islands are also assumed to be better but are not always so. Florida has some of the most toxic beaches. Drier climates have moldy buildings just like everywhere else. Of course lower summer humidity and less rainfall may mean there are more buildings that are a better choice. But a drier climate does not guarantee safer housing or better outdoor air.
- The Canary Islands are an example of a place I’ve been to that are drier than many places, but the buildings are moldier than usual because of the lack of heating and cooling. There are many great locations where people have healed that are certainly not dry. The Canary Islands are also an example of islands that are not as great as you would expect. Hawaii is another example of islands that are not spectacular. Also note, poorer countries often have poorer building practices.
Find a Good Location
Using the Locations Effect, Mold Avoiders, and Mold Avoiders on the Road groups on Facebook, and suggestions from others who have recovered, find a good area. The key aspect here is the outdoor air quality.
People have felt remarkably better in places that are exceptionally pristine – these might be in the mountains, tropical coastal areas, or the desert. Those are the most popular choices, though forests and grasslands and all types of ecological areas can be good.
None of these locations can be expected to stay good if they have been recommended years ago. Housing recommendations are even trickier. For my updated list of housing in good locations, see my list here, I keep track every time somebody shares a specific place where they recovered.
Check with people in the Facebook group Mold Avoiders or the Locations Effect to see if the area is still good.
I often do consultations on this topic because locations and especially buildings change over time. I am able to vet places near me and I can use my network to vet housing in other locations. Otherwise, I can analyze them through photos to some degree.
There are factors here that are individual, not everybody does well with altitude, not everybody does well in a tropical setting if it’s hot. I would definitely take into consideration your individual factors, but I would not assume that you are looking for just a drier climate or just a beach location.
However, there is still enough of a consensus on locations where people have healed as long as you take into consideration those personal aspects such as altitude and heat, etc.
Ricky’s Caribbean Effect
Many are able to do a lot of healing in clean, clear turquoise waters. When looking for healing water, look for clean water and clean sand meaning not a lot of seaweed or debris.
Look for bright turquoise and calm waters where you will be able to sit and float in the water. You can look through Google photos (not promotional shots) and satellite images to find these waters.
Typically each island has good sides and not so good sides.
The “Ricky Islands” are Aruba, Cayman, Turks and Caicos, St Maarten and Anguilla. Others have done well on Aruba (most reports on Aruba from avoiders), Cayman and Turks.
There are areas on other islands or the Caribbean coasts that can be really great, for example the best beaches in Cuba are both on the north coast resort area and playa Ancon south. A number of people have made big gains on the Caribbean coasts of Mexico, Belize and Costa Rica.
The eastern Caribbean Islands have not been as good. The Bahamas have mixed reports and may be too far north, though Exuma fits Ricky’s Criteria.
Avoid areas with sargassum, too much seaweed, red tide and cyano (like Florida). There can be other toxins in the water if sewage or other toxic runoffs are dumped there.
Avoid human-made bays which are not as good. You may want to look at trade winds as well to make sure you have water coming off the ocean.
Spending time in and on this type of water has been really helpful for many people. Staying somewhere with a direct line of sight to the ocean breeze has been helpful for many.
Ricky, who has made a 100% recovery on various islands, has developed this method of analyzing water, the location of housing on the island and which islands are best. You can read his advice in the Locations Effect Facebook page or follow his journey to relocate to the Caribbean permanently here.
When I’m looking at locations I’m looking for three things:
1. Places where people have totally or almost totally recovered just from the locations effect.
2. Places where the most extremely sensitive people have made great improvements.
3. Enough consensus on the location. A lot of mixed reports indicate that the location might not be the best for those super sensitive or to make the best chance at recovery.
One additional strategy you can use is to look at the progress of people who have similar illnesses to you, similar sensitivities, and a similar level of unmasking. This last piece can be really important especially if you have really specific sensitivities, for example, you need to avoid pesticides or high EMF areas that other mold avoiders may not be avoiding as scrupulously.
Generally, though, it’s the mold avoiders who are healing who have the highest level of sensitivity to the environment, not just to mold, but to many different types of outdoor toxins.
I look at the reports over the last 10 years and I look at who is reporting – have they made a significant recovery, and are they unmasked already. For those just starting out and who are not unmasked and are coming from a really moldy place, they may see a quick improvement by changing locations with only decent enough housing.
This does not mean the location is excellent, and they often cannot hold on to these gains if the location and housing are not great.
Choosing Lodging for the Sabbatical
A tent is less risky as you have way more control over the environment you are sleeping in (but it could be difficult to offgas). A tent can be hard for someone who is extremely sensitive to temperature. But there are lots of tips and tricks in my post on camping.
I have made progress in a tent even when 90% bedbound. Other options include glamping, RVs, and hotels/rentals.
Finding lodging that is chemical/scent and mold-free is trickier, and everyone is different in their sensitivities, so even a good recommendation is tricky. Places also may have been contaminated or become moldy since the recommendation was made.
Tenting on Sabbatical
Here is my post on camping. I go through options for tents for people with chemical sensitivities as well as how to keep your tent and gear as mold-free as possible.
I also share some of my tips for people with challenges around comfort.
When looking at glamping setups I’m looking at them just as closely to inspect the age and condition of the materials.
Canvas is a no-no unless it’s brand new in a dry climate. I want to see raised off the ground. No used tents on flat surfaces.
Yurts and domes need to be looked at carefully for offgassing and mold.
When glamping, look for well built simple structures, raised off the ground. These otentiks can be found across Canada. Ask about the age and materials.
Trailers for a Sabbatical
Airstreams can be rented from many different places but you want to go as new as possible there.
Having a cargo trailer with no wood, offgassed Camplite or offgassed fiberglass trailer could provide a good baseline home.
There are sites that rent converted vans like Outdoorsy. If you have never lived in a metal trailer before you have to take some caution here, as not everybody can tolerate metal.
Indoor Lodging for a Sabbatical
There are a few ways to go about finding good rentals or hotels. One way, if you’re totally masked and this is all new to you, is you could just look for somewhere someone has recovered recently.
If you do not have MCS you may be able to bank on something new if it is carefully chosen – analyze the likelihood of this type of building being moldy in that country and climate.
If you are already very sensitive to chemicals and or mold, you have to be a lot more cautious with the recommendations. Usually as new as you can go is the best bet, but not always.
Depending on where you are in the world it is possible for older buildings to be better built. There are many building types that are moldy from the get-go. In some countries building practices are so poor that the building will be moldy within a year.
I look at the type of construction and the quality that could be expected based on where it is and who it was built by. But not everybody is the same in what is best for them. A wooden simple hut or log cabin may be great for some, but some can’t tolerate wood. For me personally, a very new concrete high-rise with climate control is usually the best option, but they’re not perfect.
Concrete is often wet for great lengths of time during the building process and does not dry properly. Concrete buildings are an even bigger problem in tropical countries where there is no climate control (no indoor humidity control) or if building standards are poor (example: slabs built wrong).
The HVAC type has to be analyzed for its propensity to go moldy as well.
The type of building you choose will depend on where it is located. There is no one fits all recommendation here. There are places where I would prefer a little wooden hut or cabin.
Sometimes glamping setups can work, but there’s no guarantee that those are going to be made with materials that were not water damaged or have not gone moldy with time.
I have at times done well with an Airbnb that has an outside sleeping space, but even then there was a learning curve because a moldy building can be felt and even smelled from 100 feet away or more.
And, outdoor concrete, tiles, and balconies are very prone to mold in tropical countries. So this is not always as easy as it seems.
I would go brand-new and I would make sure you have a large enough space outside to backyard camp. Because of these requirements, this option can be expensive.
There are certain areas of the world where I would not go with anything that has a slab or a basement due to poor construction practices or waterlogged soil. In fact, I very rarely choose ground level accommodation. Even for small huts or cabins, I want to see them raised off the ground.
This is where I bring in my experience of traveling throughout different parts of the world in different climates and trying out hundreds of buildings while mostly sleeping outside and staying unmasked.
I use the knowledge acquired from Building Biology and building science experts to analyze what’s not working.
Some things you can ask about are cleaning products, air fresheners, last year of renovations, any water damage especially hurricane damage or leaks, pesticides, and anything else that you’re specifically sensitive to.
My Tips and Tricks for Packing for a Sabbatical
You can see a visual packing list here on Amazon with notes on each one, of all the items I bring on a trip that will involve travel and bnbs or hotels.
This includes being prepared for a balcony or patio sleeping and items needed for travel.
Many of these need to be offgassed if you have MCS.
These are some of the key items:
- Caution with cotton in high humidity environments, like camping in a tropical setting, especially if hand washing clothing. This compact microfiber towel dries quickly.
- I have these cute plastic shoes which I love. If you are camping you’re going to want rubber or plastic shoes. They are good for beaches too. Easy to wash and decontaminate and they look decent. You can leave them outside without them going moldy.
- Although it’s not necessary, I do like charcoal soap and gloves to decontaminate the skin. You may end up showering more than usual, in which case you’re going to need non-irritating soap and a better moisturizer than usual. I have found probiotics to be very useful on the skin when showering a lot to protect my microbiome.
- This dish soap works well as an all in one soap – dish, laundry soap, body soap and shampoo in a pinch. But when travelling light I bring this laundry soap in bar form. If you require scent-free soaps you will want to check that the country you’re going to has that option. Another item you’re unlikely to find in store in many parts of the world is a scent free and natural sunscreen. I like badger.
- I use mylar bags to sequester items. Careful, if the aluminum starts to flake off or become dust form, discard these immediately.
- I use these aluminum tarps to sequester a bed. I may be sequestering off-gassing, mold or bacteria. I also use them if my sweat is contaminating the bed. Throw out often. If the aluminum flakes off or becomes dust form discard immediately.
- I use little glass jars with glass lids to isolate and store items like medication because it is very easy to decontaminate them.
- I bought this affordable tablet for my last trip on a Black Friday sale. For a shorter trip, this can replace both your laptop and your phone. Use Skype to make phone calls and if you need to do a lot of work buy a portable keyboard as well. You will need one that comes with a SIM card slot if you are out of Wi-Fi and can’t tether a phone.
- I used to bring a heating blanket everywhere I go so I can sleep with the window open, on a balcony or in a tent. You will almost certainly have to wash or air those out before using it. If you can tolerate a heating blanket, you’re going to be able to have access to way more fresh air and colder temperatures.
My Tips for Decon During a Sabbatical
- I find that it’s much easier, in the beginning, to have separate clothes for indoors and outdoors until you are able to really assess when something is contaminated, if it can be washed, or if it needs to be thrown away.
- If you can, wash the bedding when you arrive or bring your own and request no bedding. Examine the washing machine in the building that you are staying in to see how moldy it is. (They are usually moldy, but Airbnb’s run by professional management companies often ship out their laundry, if you find a new building like this you may find a washer and dryer that have barely or never been used).
- Wash clothes by hand with non-toxic, scent-free soap. Note, Borax is no longer considered safe to use in the laundry for decon but many people do still use this and I think the risk is low. For those who are not very chemically sensitive, quaternary ammonia, like Unscented Downy, can be very useful for removing mycotoxins from clothes. Some people start to detox a lot through their sweat and that may be cleaned by boiling or other methods. Some use ozone on their clothes or EM1 to soak them.
A Few Final Notes:
- I see improvement in symptoms after one day of being in a good location. Certainly one week is minimum for your test run, but I would aim for 3 weeks.
- After a few weeks, you will have a heightened sense of smell and will be able to detect contaminated objects much more easily. Note that some molds do not have a scent, judge places and items more on your symptoms then how they smell.
- EMFs in a location are an important factor as well as pollution, chemicals and mold. Factors that seem to be very important are mystery toxin, cyanobacteria, toxins around military bases, sewer related toxins, flame retardant associated toxins, some brand new buildings that have high offgassing, and regular air pollution. In some locations that are particularly bad, we don’t always know what the toxin in the air or water is.
Corinne Segura is a Building Biologist with 6 years of experience helping others create healthy homes. I have been doing extreme mold avoidance since 2013.
Did you find this post helpful? If so you can buy me a coffee to support the research behind this blog. Thank you!