It’s time to get to know our Food Allergy Trailblazers a bit better. Nina Modak is from the UK but lives in Bulgaria. She has visited 21 countries with peanut and tree nut allergies and helps allergy families on her blog Eat Allergy Safe.
1. How long have you had food allergies?
I’ve always had food allergies. My mum discovered my peanut allergy when I was 9 months old and then an allergy test told us how serious it was including my tree nut allergies at 3 years old.
2. When did you first get the “travel bug”?
I think my travel bug started kicking in when I became a teenager. I went to an international secondary school so I was surrounded by different cultures all the time. I think making friends with people from all over started a fascination with other cultures, and we always loved to share food from our home countries too! As I got older I got to go on holiday with friends and visit their hometowns. Then when I finished school it was time to fly! My best friend and I decided we were going to go on an adventure of a lifetime: 30 days backpacking across 8 European countries!
3. What allergy-related items do you typically have in your carry-on bag/backpack?
I always have my 2 adrenaline pens, anti-histamines and inhalers as my base things. Then I also carry a couple other useful things such as a hair tie or clip (because if you start throwing up while having a reaction the worst thing is to get your hair covered in sick…and I have really long hair…). I also like to carry a little bottle of water, some wet wipes, tissues, and a spare plastic bag. Allergy translation cards are also a recent addition to my allergy bag.
4. Are there places in the world you would consider “off limits” because of your allergies? Why?
To me China feels off limits if I had to be catered for only by hotels or restaurants. Having a peanut and tree nut allergy I would just feel the risk is too great.
5. What country have you had the most success in with food allergies? Why?
I think most of my travelling has been pretty successful. I can’t really think that out of the 21 countries I’ve been to so far that one has been more successful than another.
6. Have you had any allergic reactions while traveling abroad? What happened? Has it changed the way you travel? Do you have any special measures in place in case you have a reaction?
The only time I’ve had a reaction abroad was the first time I went to India and someone didn’t own up to putting peanuts in the food despite repeated questions to ascertain if this was the case. This was a case of ignorance and just not believing the severity of my allergy before my allergic reaction. She believed family and I afterwards though…It hasn’t necessarily changed the way I travel but it has changed the way I don’t worry about what other people might think of me when I am asking about allergens. It was the point I realized that I had to wholly own my allergy because no one can do it for me and that other people’s feeling are no way near as important as my life.
7. Cuisine is usually a big part of travel. Is it for you? If not, what’s your focus when you travel?
I love food. I’m always thinking about food actually. So when I travel it is a big part of it but not in the way people might expect. Just because I can’t eat something doesn’t mean I’m not fascinated by it. I like to learn about what ingredients are native to a country, what are popular or traditional dishes and the different techniques used to cook. If I can’t eat something, I sometimes like to get someone else to try it so they can tell me about it and then I can try and make it later.
Food isn’t just what you find in the restaurants, it’s also what you can find in the markets! These are my favourite places to visit. You can also learn a lot about a culture going to these markets and watching how they sell, not just what they sell.
8. Do you take any special precautions when flying?
For long haul flights especially, I always let the airline know about my allergy and pack safe food and more than I can eat just in case I’m delayed. I also let the air stewards know who I am in the case that I’ve ordered a special meal.
9. What’s your ideal accommodation while traveling?
I think my ideal accommodation has changed a lot since I was in my backpacking days. Then I was fine with a hostel dorm. Now I prefer to rent an airbnb or apartment so that I can cook with the produce I find at the markets.
10. Do you find that some countries are more allergy-conscious than others?
Yes definitely. I find the western world are far more allergy aware than the eastern (including in Europe). In Eastern Europe they are starting to be aware and I think this has come about because of EU regulations that allergens must be listed even on unpackaged food.
11. Do you think there are any common misconceptions about international travel with food allergies?
I think a misconception is that it’s difficult. It’s not difficult it just takes a bit more planning, research and organization.
12. Any advice for others with allergies that might be hesitant or nervous to travel abroad with food allergies?
Do it, even if you feel nervous or hesitant, but take the things you’re anxious about into consideration. List them, then research them and write out how you can keep yourself self or prepare for the worst should it happen. This way you have an action plan that you know and that you can share with your travel buddy. Also the more you travel, the more you get used to planning and preparing, the less nervous you’ll be. I always think that allergies are a constant process of education. It’s all about applying what you already know to new situations and then developing and adapting to ensure that you own your allergy not your allergy own you.
You might also like to read about food allergy trailblazer Ariella Rams