A blog post in the Tips from Food Allergy Kids series.

Monika hiking in Japan.
Monika hiking in Japan.

Meet Monika

Monika is an industry journalist. She makes it her business to report on the state of affairs of different markets across the globe from the pork industry to soap, wool, and oil industries. In this profession, she has visited 70 countries and counting, including Mongolia, Thailand, Mexico, and Morocco. Monika estimates that she spends at least 200 hours in airplanes per year. Basically, you could say that it is her job to travel.

But what you would not know about Monika from the surface is that she has struggled with a severe food allergy her entire life. She is very allergic to legumes and she does not take this lightly. “I know the word ‘peanut’ in 20 different languages.” Everywhere she goes, she makes sure that there is always something safe for her to eat, even if that means packing it herself from home.

“I know the word ‘peanut’ in 20 different languages.”

Monika

How to Travel:
Food Allergy + Social-Distancing Style

Does having a food allergy make it hard to travel?

While fewer and fewer airlines serve peanuts on their planes in the United States, that cannot be said worldwide. (Not to mention all the people who bring their own snacks on the aircraft.) “I don’t eat on planes at all; I wear a mask just to be safe.”

During the time of COVID-19, where more and more people are wearing masks, how does this make you feel?

“I’m not the only person on a plane wearing a mask! It was always kind of fun being the only one wearing a mask because people didn’t know why you were wearing one, so they just stayed away which was exactly what I wanted. But there were also other benefits, like it keeps your lips moist. I hope that by wearing masks when traveling now with COVID-19, we can all be a little bit safer.”

Upon arrival, the next step was to sleep off the jet-lag and find safe foods for her to eat at her final destination. On her week-long trek across Russia on the Trans-Siberian Railroad, Monika was unsure if she was able to eat in the dining car or find safe food in the remoteness of the Russian countryside.  “Sometimes I have to just pack food of my own. It is a cultural thing to share food, but unfortunately there is no guarantee that I can survive on the kindness of others.”

 “My food allergy makes me try out new places and learn new things. For the places where it is unsafe for me to eat, I take cooking classes instead. That way I can learn the authentic way to cook meals in that culture and then I can go home and cook it for myself with safe ingredients.”

Monika's rendition of "medus kūka" a nut-free Latvian honey cake.
Medus Kūka (Latvian Honey Cake) is traditionally made with walnuts. Monika found her own recipe.

A New Way of Traveling

While Monika has never straight out turned down a job because of that country’s cuisine, she does “try to avoid countries whose diets are bean-based. I don’t want to offend anyone.” Monika recognizes the importance of traditional food and meals for each country, but she also recognizes the importance of her physical and mental well-being. If she cannot eat the traditional meals prepared, then she finds a different way to engage with the culture, whether it be through a culinary tour with a local guide aware of her allergy or attending a cooking class with ideas for supplements in the future. 

Traveling with a food allergy may be difficult, but it is nowhere near impossible. Traveling during COVID-19 is severely restricted, but with proper safety precautions and willingness to think outside the box, new adventures can still be had.

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