I’ve been on an insulin pump for about 18 years. With the exception of a few months of “pump breaks,” or defaulting to MDI (multiple daily injections), I typically use my pump to manage my diabetes when I am at home and traveling.
Our last big trip to Paris was the first time one of my pump breaks happened to fall on a vacation. I had thought about putting my pump back on since I have more experience with using my pump vs. MDI, but I just wasn’t ready. Someone asked me the other day which I preferred and which I would recommend for traveling: MDI or insulin pump.
Well, there’s no easy answer to that. But now that I’ve experienced both, I can tell you some pros and cons in case you are thinking about switching it up for your next vacay.
First thing’s first
Don’t make a big drastic change when you plan to go on vacation. If you’ve always been on injections and are able to start using a pump, I wouldn’t choose your first week of pumping to be when you are out of town. And vice versa for injections. Traveling causes all sorts of challenges with managing blood sugars: different time schedules, different foods, perhaps different activity levels, more stress/less stress, etc. You’ll have to make adjustments to your diabetes regimen based on those things, so it will be a nightmare if you have no baseline for how to manage it with the regimen you choose.
If you’ve been a pumper forever (like me) and decide to take a pump break, I say to give yourself a few weeks before the trip to make sure you can adjust and feel comfortable making decisions on injections. (I highly recommend for everyone on a pump to take a pump break, and you can read all about it here.) Just don’t jump head first into a new country, new schedule, AND new diabetes regimen. I think you’ll want to pull your hair out..
Alright, now that we’ve gotten that out of the way. Let me tell you some of my pros and cons for traveling with an insulin pump.
- Very flexible with insulin dosing.
- Easy to change the time or the basal rate patterns for major time changes.
- Ability to temp. basal (decreased or increase base level insulin) when you change your activity level, like walking around a lot in a city or sitting a lot on an airplane.
- Ability to extend boluses (give insulin over a longer period of time) for high fat foods like croissants and pastries (all of the best thingss).
- Keeps a history record of insulin on board and past boluses for reference.
- Bigger hassle when going through airport security. (Read more tips about airport security and diabetes here.)
- More supplies to bring-heavier, bulkier.
- Potential of the pump breaking on vacation and having to resort to injections. (or accidentally dropping it in the ocean like I did)
MDI (multiple daily injections)
- Easy, breezy when going through airport security.
- Less bulky supplies to carry around.
- Reliable in the sense that technology won’t fail you.
- Great option for beach/water focused vacations, because you don’t have to worry about plugging it in to get your basal (long lasting) insulin, or worry about leaving your insulin pump unattended when in the water. Read more about beachin’ with diabetes here.
- If on Tresiba, this long acting insulin does very well with changing time zones and is flexible. Should result in smooth blood sugars through time zone transitions without having to mess around with basal rates on an insulin pump.
- More freedom in outfit choices, not having to find a spot for the insulin pump.
- Less precise bolusing (have to do every 1-0.5 unit dosing where insulin pumps can be accurate to 0.001 units depending on the pump.)
- More pokes (duh), especially if you like to snack and eat your way through a new city like I do. 🙂
- No option to temp. basal, so if blood sugar is trending down or activity is increasing, only option is to eat.
- No extended bolus feature for high fat snacks like croissants (though, you can read best tips for bolusing abroad to see my tricks with injections).
- No record of time/amount of injections, so you have to write it down or remember.
The way you choose to manage your diabetes at home or on a trip, either with insulin pump or MDI, is a very personal choice and depends on a lot of different things for each person. I find that for me, switching back and forth between pump and MDI helps to give me a “break” from my same-ole routine, especially if I’m having a hard time getting good control or feeling frustrated with my diabetes.
Both are perfectly great options to use when traveling. Just think about what you’ll be doing on your trip and which option will make things easier for you. The most important thing about traveling is to have fun and soak up new cultures and experiences!