Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Tips for Traveling with a Freak of Nature

We returned from a trip to Florida last night. We had an amazing time together and with our son! Having a flat tire on the way to the airport, returning home to find it flat again, and spending a total of almost two hours sitting on various tarmacs due to air traffic control software problems (!!!!!) was mild compared to my experiences going through TSA with all the accoutrements I carried. Let me state that the following is a bit tongue-in-cheek and somewhat sarcastic. I know TSA agents are merely doing their job and I do respect that. Following are a few tips for traveling with a freak of nature:
  1. Leave early to get a good TSA pat down: When I say "early," I mean REALLY early. This is because most of us who choose to protect our health will opt-out of the x-ray scans used by TSA. (A list of links follows as to why we opt out. I encourage you to do your research.) Opting out of the scans means you get treated to a TSA pat down. I've had several of these. They're bothersome, but not as invasive as you may have heard. On a side note, I travel with vials of insulin and B12 that I also won't allow to be x-rayed. Requesting a visual check of these items also slows down the security process. The agents ignore the syringes but often seem convinced that B12 serum is a danger to national security or that I'm "hiding" a potion for world domination in those tiny syringes. This leads us to point 2:
  2. Label & package clearly: When carrying unusual items (such as kefir grains or liquids pre-loaded into syringes), it is important to package them so that TSA agents can easily view them and can easily examine them. In the case of my two B12 injections, I packaged them in a travel container typically used to store a toothbrush put inside the bag containing the prescription label. This kept them labeled, sterile, and guaranteed the plunger couldn't accidentally be pushed during travel. It also made it very easy for me to open the container to display the syringes to the agents.
  3. Leave early so that TSA can unpack your suitcase: Plan ahead for unusual items to be examined. I travel with water kefir grains and natural sugar in separate zippy bags tucked into a small jar so that I can continue my habit of brewing and drinking probiotic-rich water kefir while I travel. TSA agents in Tampa ignored these items; TSA agents in Indianapolis took them out of their protective baggies and had a million probing questions for me.  I'm not familiar with C4 explosives ... do they look like kefir grains? (See pic. Do they????) Were they afraid I'd gain control of the plane by improving the pilots' digestion? Such a mystery! One TSA agent was a bit skeptical when I said the powdered substance in the baggie was sugar used to "feed" the kefir grains, but thankfully chose not to call for drug sniffing dogs. Oddly enough, on our return trip, the water kefir grains went unnoticed, but four small bags of artisinal rice garnered many questions. I'm not sure how rice could compromise national security, but apparently it's a questionable item. Who knew? The bottom line is that if you are taking anything unusual with you while traveling, plan ahead for delays caused by TSA agents doing their job by asking questions about items and ingredients they don't recognize.
  4. Plan for TSA agents to freak out if you take off your insulin pump: This is the third time I've had a TSA agent INSIST I put my insulin pump back on after I took it off to have it inspected. Most insulin pumps do not set off metal detectors; mine does. I therefore turn if off, take it off and request a visual inspection because I've jumped through TSA hoops about my insulin pump one too many times. Here's what I was avoiding: When the pump sets off the metal detector, they insist on scanning me head to toe to figure out what metal I'm carrying. When they isolate the insulin pump as the source of the metal, they then insist that I show them my insertion set, the location where the catheter needle is injected into my body. This is typically in my lower abdomen. (I don't know about you, but I try to avoid unzipping my pants and baring my abdomen to strangers. It's just a thing I have.) They then typically force me to unhook the insulin pump ANYWAY so they can test the pump's software and prove to themselves it's an insulin pump and not a detonator. I therefore typically turn my pump off, remove it from the insertion set, request a visual check, and move on because that is faster. Or, it's faster until a TSA agent decides that if I remove my pump myself it's dangerous, but if he orders me to remove my pump it's perfectly safe. Go figure.
  5. Never lose your sense of humor: I anticipated most of the challenges we had with TSA and was ready for them and the delays they created. Running late because of a flat tire destroyed our schedule, so I was feeling a bit rushed. However, I had decided in advance to smile my way through it and crack as many jokes as I could. (I didn't attempt humor with the TSA agents and don't advise it. Cracking a joke about the C4 explosives hidden in your suitcase won't end well. Trust me.) I was successful at maintaining a positive attitude, laughing at the developments, and avoiding any expenditure of negative energy.
There you have it. If traveling with a freak of nature, plan ahead, keep smiling, and know that you're better of because of it! I think here is the appropriate place to mention that God rewarded our delays and travel challenges by blessing us with a red Mustang as our Priceline "economy" rental at $19/day. It was all very, very worth it. Have a great day!

Resources for information on radiation from TSA scanners:

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