My family loves to travel. Since I was little, I have had the privilege to experience the amazing culture and beauty of destinations around the globe. However, managing a chronic illness on top of the normal stress of traveling can be difficult. In Cazzy Magennis’ “Ultimate Guide to Traveling with Diabetes,” she provides some very helpful tips and tricks, many of which I use every time I travel.
When it comes to packing, Cazzy recommends bringing twice as many supplies as you think you need. I recommend also dividing your supplies between bags if you can. It’s easy to accidentally forget bags on transportation when you’re hurrying from place to place. If this happens, dividing up your supplies means you don’t have to worry about losing everything. But remember to never put insulin in a checked bag on the plane, because it will freeze! Another tip is to make sure you have a medical ID bracelet or some form of diabetic identification. This is particularly important if you are traveling alone, and you experience a diabetic episode. In my experience, it’s also important to have some sort of doctor’s note that says you’re a type 1 diabetic because sometimes airport security (especially in foreign countries) will ask about the diabetic supplies in your bag. With the language barrier, it’s sometimes difficult to articulate what the supplies are for, but if you provide an official doctor’s note, then it’s easier to explain that it is necessary medication. Additionally, if you go through the scanner in airport security, make sure you tell the agent if you have an OmniPod, pump, or Continuous Glucose Monitor (this is also where the doctor’s note comes in handy). Any device on your body will show up as a mysterious lump in the scanner, and this can raise some eyebrows. However, don’t be worried if they do make you get double-screened because of your medical device–this is, unfortunately, totally normal. Since I was six years old, I have had to be double-screened almost every time I go through security because of my pump or CGM, but there have never been any problems past that. Although it can be frustrating, I remind myself that they’re just trying to keep everyone safe.
Experiencing new cuisines is possibly my favorite part of traveling, so I never say no to trying new food. But new foods mean unknown carbohydrate counts. Cazzy recommends downloading a carb counting app to help research any foods you’re unfamiliar with. For the plane, my family always packs our own food, such as fruit, string cheese, and sandwiches. This makes it way easier for me to know how many carbohydrates I’m eating. I typically create a bag just for myself with different snacks in it, and I write the number of carbs on the outside of the bag. Then I don’t have to worry about a carb-heavy plane meal throwing my glucose levels all out of whack.
Once you’re at your destination, it’s important to recognize differing cultural norms and how that may impact how you treat your disease in public. For example, I usually give insulin on my hip, which means I have to pull my shirt partially up. In certain areas, this isn’t considered appropriate to do in public. To respect this, I will give insulin in a private space. When I was little, I used to check my blood sugar levels on my toes. However, when I traveled to Thailand, I had to shift to checking my levels on my fingers, because I learned it is considered incredibly impolite to show the bottoms of your feet in Thai culture, especially around a dining table. Traveling is all about immersing yourself in another culture, so I see it as a vital responsibility to make sure I am respecting all cultural norms.
Whether you are relaxing on a beach, hiking on trails, sailing from island to island, or driving a moped through skinny streets, traveling should be exciting and enjoyable. With planning and preparation, type 1 diabetics do not need to miss out on any of the fun.
This blog was written by Lauren Grove, DRC Intern, who has had T1D for 15 years and is writing in response to the article, ““The Ultimate Guide to Traveling with Diabetes.”