I recently had a previous camper from diabetes camp ask me for some tips for traveling with diabetes. I typed about 5 messages of info to her when I realized that I haven’t written a general post about traveling with diabetes. So here it is…
Traveling with diabetes can be a little nerve racking. Either you’re like I was and oblivious to the importance of planning ahead (like droping your insulin pump and meter in the ocean in Mexico with no backup plan), or you’re terrified and maybe too scared to go to certain places or do certain things.
Well I’m here to tell you it doesn’t have to be that way. I’ve learned a lot about traveling with diabetes in the last few years and I want to share all of my knowledge with you. I have yet to find a place I can’t go and I hope reading these tips will help you feel more comfortable about traveling with diabetes.
Take enough supplies and insulin for twice as long as your trip. I usually divide my insulin between mine and Connor’s bags just in case one gets lost or stolen. Make sure to take all your supplies in your carry on and never check anything. Frio makes a great insulated case designed specifically for insulin. This is great if you have a long travel day or are going somewhere hot. If you’re on a pump, make sure you have lantus/long acting insulin as a back up. Get a doctor’s note saying you’re diabetic and have to travel with medical supplies and food. Carry glucagon with you and teach people you’re traveling with what it is and what to watch for. I get paper prescriptions for humalog and lantus and carry those around with me. I also upload a copy to my Google drive (or cloud for iPhone) so that if I lose everything, I could at least get insulin. A lot of countries don’t require a prescription and most will accept a US paper prescription.
Find out before you go what you would do in a medical emergency. Some health insurances will cover or reimburse care. Some credit cards have emergency health coverage. Just have some idea of what you might do if there is an emergency.
Going through security:
Use glucose tabs or gummies for sugar because it’s easy to take through security. For security your pump shouldn’t ever go through x-ray. Usually I hold it out to show them. They’ll have me walk through the metal dectors and it will most likely go off (not all pumps) and then you get a pat down and have your pump swabbed for explosives. It’s your right to get a pat down. Legally they can not ask you to remove a medical device.
If I’m very short on time, I have taken my pump off of my own decision, handed it around the metal detector, walked through and had them test the pump by itself. This saves time because since I’m female, they have a female staff member do the pat down. I’ve waited 15 minutes before waiting for a female officer to be available. This is a good example of why you should give yourself lots of extra time to get through security!
I’ve found it actually easier and less stressful to go through security in other countries versus the US. If you have a pump, just say it’s a medical device and you should have no problem.
Try to eat low carb before and during the flight. This will help keep your sugars steadier. As for time changes, I usually gradually change the time on my pump as I’m on the flight so that by the time I get there, it matches up to the local time. Every time I change the time I tell myself, “okay, it’s 10am right now,” for example, and I figure if my mind thinks it’s 10am, my body will need 10am basal insulin. It’s just a working theory, but it’s the most successful method I’ve found so far.
For jet lag, I try to stay up until it’s at least 7 or 8 pm. Going to bed at that time should set you on a regular schedule.
On your trip:
You’re probably going to be walking a lot. If you’re on a pump, the temp. basal is really good for walking around the city. Be wary of when you will be walking, biking, etc. when you’re dosing insulin. I’ve made the mistake of giving a full bolus for a meal and then walking a few miles to have an inevitable low blood sugar. Physical activity causes insulin to metabolize faster. I try to lower a bolus dose if we will be active shortly afterwards.
Always carry supplies and sugar with you. Again, glucose tabs and gummies are great. You can usually find gummy bears or similar type of snacks anywhere. If you’re on a pump, bring extra sites if you’ll be out for the day.
Low carb definitely yields better blood sugars. Bring your own low carb snacks if you can. I have found this is very true about breakfast especially. Even if I am going to eat carbs, I will try to limit them at least a breakfast, otherwise I end up chasing my sugar’s all day. This is usually doable because eggs and meats are available almost anywhere.
Don’t forget to give yourself some slack and expect blood sugars to be a little less than perfect. It is possible to eat perfectly and have perfect blood sugars on a vacation, but some once in a lifetime experiences are worth a less than perfect blood sugar day. A lot of culture is experienced through food. I’m not going to say no to chocolate torte in Vienna, or a beer garten in Germany. You’re also bound to have some low blood sugars from all the exploring. So face it as it comes and then move forward. Remember you’re there to have fun and experience the culture. Just because your diabetes has to come on your trip too doesn’t mean it has to run the show.
I’ve learned a lot about what to do and what not to do traveling with diabetes. I’ve made mistakes and I’m sure I’ll continue to make mistakes, but I haven’t found anything I can’t do or any place I can’t go with diabetes.
I hope you have fun in your adventures. Happy travels!