With diabetes, comes a lot of baggage. Besides the emotional baggage of the lows and highs of blood sugar rollercoasters, comes the need for an extra suitcase to hold the supplies that keep you alive whether it’s one night at a friends or two months in the Galapagos. Diabetes also creates this need to pay more attention to your body than you normally would in order to get the most out of your vacay or venture.
Even if I haven’t been continent hopping for the past 16 years, I’ve gone on plenty of trips that take me away from my home where ALL my diabetic supplies lie safe and in abundance. Amongst those trips, I’ve had incidences such as leaving my pump inserter at home on a three day trip to Ashland, Oregon or the time I went to Carmel, California with only 5 test strips in my possession and no CGM (Continuous Glucose Monitor). I’ve had plenty of times where changing time zones gets the best of me and as a result I deal with a roller coaster of Blood Glucose (BG) levels. Traveling with Type 1 Diabetes can be very intimidating but here’s some advice I’ve gathered for not only fellow diabetics but for myself to keep in mind as the adventures in my life happen.
1. Double EVERYTHING
Say you’re going away for just one night, your pump site has just been changed and a new reservoir has been filled so you shouldn’t need to worry about having to change your set while away, right? WRONG. Next thing ya know, a zombie apocalypse happens and you’re going to be stuck in your hotel/cabin/tent/cardboard box with no pump change or insulin.
Do the math, if you’re going away for 14 days and your pump has to be changed every 3 days (if you’re a good diabetic) then you’ll realistically have 4-5 pump changes. Now double that so that way you have 5 extra infusion sets and reservoirs for when some malfunction and the cannula is bent so no insulin can be delivered or the reservoir leaks (it happens, trust me). Make a check-list because you can never be too prepared, it’s better to have so many extra supplies that you have to forfeit a pair of sandals but it’ll be worth it say the worst case scenario happens and you need them.
If you’re traveling via plane, make sure these supplies are with you. Not checked, but right above you in the overhead compartment. If it’s a very long trip then bring enough for a week with you as a carry-on and ditch the rest in your checked luggage. For insulin, that needs to stay with you because those vials can become overheated if they’re checked.
2. Bring your favorite snacks
I know for me, my favorite part of traveling is the food. I ate my way through Europe when I studied abroad and have no shame about it. Even when I travel in-state, I want to dive mouth first into food that I won’t find easily where I live. But with trying new foods, comes trying to bolus correctly for them. Estimating the amount of carbohydrates in a Nutella calzone is quite the challenge as one can imagine
So even on a day trip or for example, a 10 day vacation in Hawaii, I like to bring snacks that my BG is familiar with. This might sound strange to someone with a functioning pancreas but the reason is because even with nutrition facts on a package, that doesn’t mean a mindless bolus will do the trick. We have to think about the amount of fat or protein in the food and if that will slow down the glucose so much that the insulin will cause the BG to drop before the glucose can bring it up. Instead of hoping to find a snack at the destination, I bring my Rx bars or R.E.D.D bars with me. I’ve been munching on these goodies long enough to know exactly how my BG will react and what a good amount to bolus is. Having these with me, even if I never get around to eating them, takes a lot of pressure off my shoulders. If there’s a long car ride excursion and I get so hungry that my BG starts to drop, I’m going to be so happy to have a familiar bite to eat.
3. Be transparent
More than likely you’ll be with someone who does not have T1D (but if you are with T1D’s then that is so cool and invite me next time), so telling them how you’re feeling, when you need to eat or rest is so important to having a successful and fun trip.
If the trip you’re going on is a relaxing one where you lay on the beach and are fairly inactive, it’s still important for the people around you to be aware of T1D because as the sun beats down on you, you won’t feel the exact way you do in the comfort of your home (personally, heat lowers my BG). If the trip involves day-long excursions, it’s especially important to stay transparent with people around you as your BG probably isn’t used to the new activities it’s being introduced to. Being transparent with people you travel with isn’t easy. I never want to be the person to take a break in the middle of a long hike because of a hypo event- it makes me feel weak and embarrassed. But in doing so, I’m saving my life and if the people you’re with know that they should respect you for listening to your body.
This piece of advice also goes for when going through airport security. I always make sure the TSA agents know about my diabetes. As my bag is traveling on the belt to be inspected I tell the person in charge that there are diabetes supplies enclosed. They never bat an eye anymore, but it’s better for them to know incase they are alarmed at the amount of tiny needles being brought through. Same goes when going through the body scanner- pumps and CGM’s aren’t suppose to go through metal detectors and will cause the machine to go off on the full body scanner. So be ready to tell them about the pump clipped to your belt or attached to your body.
4. Be good to your body
This builds off the importance of being transparent with your traveling companions and making sure they understand when you need to take breaks. You also need to understand when those breaks are necessary. Whether you’re out exploring mountains or strolling along beaches, you can drain your blood glucose levels just by exposing yourself to this new environment and rhythm. Keep in mind that you might have to check your BG levels more frequently than when you’re home as your body is adjusting to time differences and activity levels.
I know that when I go on family vacations where the weather can be humid and I’m swimming or hiking nearly everyday, my body doesn’t get comfortable with this until after a couple days. By being good to my body, I allow it to ease into this new routine as well as allowing my BG to adjust. Basal rates might need to be changed and bolus’s lessened because of the activity.
And always have a darn good time.