travelling with diabetes
Today, our guest writer Maryna shares some tips and advice from her travels… Specifically, travelling with diabetes. She’s outlined 8 helpful tips for travelling with diabetes. Do you have anything to add? Comment below, or on Facebook!
Adventures with diabetes
I love travelling. I’ve travelled overseas, I’ve travelled to remote places in the country with no facilities, I go camping a lot – especially in summer. I love seeing new places, meeting new people and just basking in a foreign sun. Insulin and glucometer in tow, I’ve spent ten days in the middle of the Karoo without electricity or running water. It wasn’t an easy task and required a lot of planning on my part, but it’s an experience I wouldn’t exchange for anything.
Going on holiday should be an exciting adventure filled with laughter and fun. Unfortunately, if you have diabetes it comes with its own set of troubles. Besides that annoying feeling that you forgot half of what you should have packed, you have a few extra factors to consider when packing that suitcase.
Easier to travel with diabetes now
Travelling as a diabetic has become much easier than it used to be. In 2002 when I went to the UK for the first time, I was still using syringes and vials and the ensuing three-hour debacle at customs left me crying and embarrassed in a busy corridor in the middle of Heathrow Airport. I had a doctor’s letter, I had a letter from the medical aid, but trying to get boxes of syringes over the border ended up being far more difficult than expected.
In 2018, Customs isn’t a worry anymore, in most cases authorities don’t even notice the pens in my hand luggage and when I declare my medicine, most flight attendees are too scared to take my insulin away from me and keep it in the cabin like they are supposed to. I don’t really need a doctor’s letter anymore since it’s now a rarity to be asked for one, and even the strictest airports don’t seem to bat an eyelid at my luggage.
There are a few tricks to making your travel experience as easy as possible. Here are my top eight tips for travelling with diabetes:
1. Travelling with insulin
Firstly and most important comes the insulin. The ins and outs of travelling with insulin can be a bit tricky, especially keeping your insulin cold enough. My solution came from the fitness industry: www.sixpackbags.com. These bags are made for bodybuilders to keep and carry their eight meals of the day. The bags are sneakily lined with small pockets for ice-packs, you can line the whole bag with icy goodness, and the bags are insulated very similarly to a coolerbox. It’s saved my insulin on numerous occasions, especially during long-haul flights or long road trips.
Always remember to take extra insulin! This I learnt long ago when I went on a sandy beach vacation. I never considered that sea sand is fine enough to slip between the seals in my epipen, which in turn makes the pen useless as it can’t turn anymore. Lesson learnt! The panic was very real and only after a whole day of going from pharmacy to pharmacy and eventually the hospital, was my problem solved… At a price. Always take extra needles with you and keep a doctor’s letter on you for overseas trips to satiate that one-in-a-thousand strict Customs employee.
2. Remember your water bottle
Secondly is water, always have water with you. It doesn’t matter if it’s an eight hour drive, 12 hour flight or a leisurely stroll on the beach. Water is a great way to help your insulin do its work. Since diabetics dehydrate faster than the norm, it’s important to have your liquid backup prepared.
3. Watch what you eat
Take into account that sitting for prolonged hours is most probably throwing off your daily routine, so check what you eat and drink while travelling. I usually eat far less while on the road or on a flight or I’ll pay the price later with a high blood sugar reading. Once you arrive, it’s important to watch what you eat as well – especially when you travel overseas. Foreign food is one of the best things when travelling, I love tasting new dishes and experiencing local food customs, but don’t be shy to ask what is in your delicious food and how it was made. You’ll regret it later if you ate something that doesn’t play well with your diabetes.
4. Be aware of water retention
Holding back water is normal when travelling for long hours. It can be uncomfortable and at times even painful. Personally it affects me for a couple of days when I’ve travelled for long and I’ve had some instances where I would have made balloons jealous with my puffiness. Invest in compression socks, which you can get at any Clicks or Dischem. Trust me, the last thing you want is huge “cankles” when you get off the plane, waddling like a duck for the first two days of your holiday.
5. Be (medically) prepared
Always make sure that your medical information is readily available. It sounds obvious, but I have been surprised by the amount of people that don’t have any type of indication of their diabetes on their person. Get that MedicAlert bracelet and wear it.
6. Pack carefully
Comfortable, worn-in shoes are a must. It doesn’t matter if your holiday includes a lot of walking or not, make sure those sensitive feet are comfortable. Combined with the water retention that you may experience, you might have less feeling in your feet, so make sure to check your feet more regularly, especially for blisters. In the last couple of years I’ve also started covering my lower legs when camping in the veld or places with rough terrain. The last thing you want is scratches and scrapes on your legs.
7. Test your blood sugar more often
This is not a must, but I find that my routine is completely topsy-turvy on holiday. I eat differently, my activities are different, sleeping patterns are strange, so I test my blood sugar more often. I carry my glucometer on me at all times during my trips. Depending on how sensitive your body is, even a slight difference can affect you. So listen to your body and make sure you are always ready for highs or lows or just a crazy surprise sunburn.
8. Enjoy yourself!
Possibly one of the most valuable tips I can give here is to enjoy yourself. If you are prepared, there is nothing stopping you from having a fun-filled, adventurous experience. Be vigilant, but not obsessive about your condition. Enjoy the sites, smells and surroundings, meet new people, experience something different. Travelling is an enriching experience, make sure you get as much as you can from it!
It sounds like a lot of effort, many things to remember and just a plain inconvenience, but trust me: being prepared will make your holiday and travelling so much more pleasant.
All you need to know about going on holiday with diabetes – Type 1 or Type 2.
- Make sure you have enough medication to last your whole holiday – including insulin injections or tablets, testing strips, needles and lancets. Take a little extra if you can, and don’t forget things like batteries for your glucometer.
- If you are on insulin, take a copy of your prescription and a letter from your doctor that says you need to carry your injections with you at all times. Some security checkpoints will ask for this, so it’s best to be prepared.
- Insulin needs to be kept at a constant, cool temperature – never above 30°C and never below freezing. Be sure to take a cooler bag to keep it at the right temperature wherever you travel.
- Never leave your medicine in direct sunlight! Check that if you’re on a long bus trip, it’s kept close to you and out of the sun.
- Always carry some sugary snacks with you in case of hypoglycemia. A roll of Super Cs or some sugar packets will do the trick.
- Be aware of the effects of exercise on your blood sugar. If you’re exploring a new city, you may be walking more than usual so your blood sugar could go lower than it normally does.
- If you’re going overseas, sign up for medical insurance or ask your South African medical aid what their overseas policy is. You want to know exactly what to do in case of emergency.
- If you’re travelling across time zones, adjust the time you take your long-acting insulin slowly (over a few days) so your body has time to adjust to the new time zone.
- Try to stick to somewhat-recognisable food so that you can accurately guess the carb content and know what it will do to your blood sugar.
- Have fun! Don’t let diabetes stand in the way of you experiencing everything you can while you’re on holiday.