Summer’s always a busy travel time, and it goes without saying that we PWDs have a whole lot to keep in mind whenever we hit the road…
At the moment, our whole team is on the move. Mike and his wife are heading to Orlando for the annual CWD Friends For Life conference, both to cover the conference and to enjoy some vacation time at the Disney Resort for the first time since they honeymooned there in 2005. And my family and I are currently in Germany, for the annual trip we make each summer to visit family and friends.
Our newest addition Amanda just returned home to the U.S. herself, and wanted to share some personal thoughts on what it was like traveling with diabetes…
Between graduate school ending recently (!) and a new internship beginning, I was fortunate enough to have a couple weeks of vacation recently. My travels away from New York took me to North Carolina for a week and then across the border to Mexico for my cousin’s wedding (double woot!).
Between small vacations like these throughout the years, and two study abroad trips in Europe, I like to think I have traveling as a diabetic pretty well under control.
Of course, as soon as you’re bold enough think that, you find out you’re not the “expert” you may have thought you were. Travel snafus are something the ‘Mine team has written about many times through the years, like this story and a number of others.
Sometimes, you run out of supplies or fast-acting glucose and it might be necessary to find a someone else who can help — whether it’s a fellow PWD at a conference or one you’ve met “in the wild,” or even strangers on a plane or train who may have much-needed candy at the right moment. Sometimes, these quick connections can be life-savers!
I’m a fan of Top 10 lists, so I took that route (traveling pun!) as a way to rerecap my recent travel experiences. Amy actually wrote her own Top 10 list a few years ago, talking about what she didn’t prepare for. Here’s my take on traveling with diabetes. Hope you all can learn something from my adventures, but please: try not to laugh too hard at me. (Try, won’t you?)
- Perhaps I’m just unlucky, but Murphy’s Law always seems to be in effect when I’m on vacation. In fact, it reads something like this: “Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong on vacation.” Approximately 99.9% of all pump malfunctions I’ve ever had occurred while on vacation. Button error? Yup. Unable to prime infusion set? Naturally! Pump getting cracked, submerged in water and becoming unresponsive? You betcha! As such, I always make sure to pack plenty of syringes and long-acting insulin, such as Lantus, for the entire vacation — and then some. It’s also not a bad idea to make note of the address where you’re staying when you arrive, just in case you need a replacement pump sent there.
- That brings me to my second point: I’m a worst-case-scenario kind of gal. What do I mean by that? I’ll give you an example. Prior to leaving for Mexico I started thinking to myself, what if there is an international incident and I’m stuck at the resort for a prolonged period of time? A little crazy? Probably. But that means I always have triple the amount of medical supplies I actually need on hand for the period of time I’m away, just in case. (In my defense, I met a girl who works at JDRF in NYC while I was at the SWD conference a few weeks ago who carries extra insulin, full reservoirs and insulin pens on her person at all times just in case she ever gets stuck in the subway for days on end. Hey, it could happen!)
- On the topic of packing — I always laugh at the people, aka non-diabetics, who worry that they’ve forgotten to pack something. My mantra has always been that as long as I have my medical supplies, nothing else really matters. An extra pair of shoes isn’t going to be a matter of life and death, is it? And while I’ve never lacked medical supplies while away, I have forgotten to bring enough underwear a time or two. So, while I stand by my statement that medical supplies are the only things I truly need, extra underwear are probably a close second.
- Going on vacation doesn’t mean you can take a vacation from diabetes — though that sounds wonderful, doesn’t it? There have been a few instances while on vacation wheres I didn’t bolus for the things I’m eating and drinking until hours later, or didn’t check my blood sugar for a whole day, or I ate pasta late at night and expected it not to affect me. Good thing I don’t go on vacation very often, huh? I don’t know why vacation makes me go temporarily insane — perhaps because I’m wishing that vacation means escaping all my daily troubles and stress. Uh, I was at the pool bar and my pump was safe and dry at my chair but simultaneously too far away to bother with — or I was just acting dumb. Take your pick. Whatever the reason, all of these were terrible decisions and led me to feel terrible while on vacation. Trust me on this one: take the five minutes every hour to check your blood sugar, bolus before you eat that sweet dessert, and maybe hold off on the late-night pasta. I promise it won’t ruin your vacation.
- When changing time zones, remember to adjust the time on your pump and meter. Otherwise the next time you see your endocrinologist you’ll end up manually trying to match readings and boluses to times and meals, which, take it from me, is pretty much impossible.
- Wherever you go, whomever you go with, make sure there is someone there who knows you have diabetes and — at least to some extent — understand what that means. As I mentioned earlier, I’ve done a few study abroad trips in Europe. Both experiences were completely wonderful, but also meant that I was far from my support system. Though I thankfully never needed their assistance, briefly explaining to my roommates what diabetes is, the possible situations that could arise and how they could help, was essential and made me feel more at ease.
- Have something on hand to treat low blood sugars. While this is always true, whether you’re on vacation or not, it’s especially important when traveling. There are times that I run out of glucose tabs in my purse and won’t refill for a few days because I know I have easy access to juice at home and at work. But when in an unfamiliar place, such as a hotel or relative’s home, you can’t be sure that you’ll be able to find something appropriate quickly enough. So stock up on your favorite glucose product because wandering through the halls of a resort at 2 a.m. looking for a soda machine while suffering from hypoglycemia is not fun.
- When you’re away from home and likely not preparing your own meals, it can make your blood sugar pretty wacky. I’m a bit of a control freak — one of the reasons I enjoy cooking all of my own meals is because I know every ingredient that goes into whatever dish I make, and therefore the exact amount of carbohydrates I’m consuming. That’s not always possible when you are eating out or when you have a relative cook for you. I give it my best shot, but there are always a few meals that I over or underestimate, resulting in an extreme high or low blood sugar. Don’t get me wrong, I want to enjoy the eating out experience, but I try to limit myself to one out-of-the-ordinary meal per day. It helps with my blood sugars, and it also prevents me from gaining weight over vacation. Most restaurants have salads and oatmeal which allow me to stick to my daily regiment, and I always bring things like granola bars, fruit and individually packaged oatmeal that I can eat — and that have nutrition labels — if worse comes to worse.
- We’ve discussed this here at the ‘Mine before so I won’t go into detail, but I really do love using the Frio system to transport and protect my insulin. It’s just so simple and convenient.
- As I said before, it’s not good to completely ignore your diabetes while on vacation. That being said, I try not to beat myself up too much if I have a bad reading here and there – you’ll be back to the same old routine soon enough. Relax, and have a good time.
So, there are my Top 10s for traveling with diabetes. Do I sound like a newbie? Be honest: You done laughing at me yet? I know you are…
Overall, my vacation was a great time and I’m happy to have had the experiences, even with diabetes along for the ride!
What tips do you have on traveling with diabetes? Do you do anything differently? Have any particularly memorable stories you’d like to share?