Summer is here which can only mean one thing… travel time. With this in mind I thought it would be useful to share some of my diabetic related travel hacks that I have learned along the way, either through making mistakes of my own or tips that I have learned from fellow t1d’s. Although I have travelled to 21 countries so far, only 7 of those trips were taken whilst living with diabetes. Some cool destinations include Las Vegas (a Few Times), LA, Thailand, Sweden, Cambodia and Belgium. Obviously being so far away from home (Liverpool, UK) and managing a 24 hour mystery (diabetes) there are a few things to consider.
Literally take more than you think you are going to need, even if you have already packed double. I am on pump therapy so I take spare cannulas, cartridges and batteries for that. I then pack test strips, insulin, snacks and lancets (I may not use the lancets but I still pack them lol). I once went to a party about a 6 hour drive away from my house and I ran out of insulin before the drive home which could’ve taken much longer due to traffic. You can read about that here. I should’ve taken more insulin or at least checked cartridge before leaving for the party in the first place.
Lesson – Always take more than you need and that will be about right.
This is a big one even for the non-diabetics… More often than not my pump gets swabbed while it is still attached to me. No problems at all, aside from the frisking. Every time I go through security I get a full body check. At this point I would suggest wearing your pump in the band of your trousers as it is easier to unclip and less embarrassing that trying to get it from your bra if they ask you to show them. If you are asked to take it off, make sure that they are aware that under no circumstances can your pump be put through the x ray machine. It can damage it. You should have a letter from your doctor to back you up.
In terms of insulin and sharps (back up ones in my case) no one says anything. What I would suggest is that you keep your insulin in its original packaging so that it shows your name and address on the box; I was once going through security and the woman wanted to see my ID in order to match my medication to me. I didn’t have the vials of insulin in their box, but luckily she got distracted by my pump and I just went ahead. Phew, got out of that one.
Also, I know it seems obvious but separate your normal liquids from your medicinal liquids. It makes life easier for everyone.
Allow an extra 10 minutes so that you’re not rushing around if you do get stopped. Last time, because of diabetes supplies, my carryon bag had to go through the X ray machine twice and I was then rushing around trying to get to my gate quicker. Hypo alert. Calm pace works best when travelling with diabetes.
One last thing… Wear less accessories. You have enough to think about with diabetes supplies, you don’t want to be taking your jewellery / belts on and off too.
ALWAYS CARRY MEDICAL SUPPLIES IN HAND LUGGAGE.
Plane / Airport Food
Unless I have booked tickets to an airport lounge where I will be served breakfast, I tend to take a packed lunch to the airport with me. Depending on time and length of flight I eat on the plane or at the airport. I find that it is much easier to play one less game of “guess the bolus” before I truly start my trip. If the flight is 5 hours plus I will just kind of get what I am given and guess from there.
If you want to be extra prepared you can call the airline in advance or you can look on their website to find out what food will be served on a particular flight. I once heard someone complaining about the amount of carbs in a meal one time, don’t be that person. Do your research or take your own food. Oh, and take your own hypo snacks. Don’t rely on the cabin crew to get you some sugar.
I didn’t’ find this one out until fairly recently from a Laura M on Twitter. She advised me to disconnect my pump for take-off and landing because of the air pressure inside the cabin. I nearly kicked myself becuase I didn’t already know this. I mean, think about how your ears pop, imagine what that does to the pump. It makes perfect sense. This blog post written by Melissa Lee explains and confirms it all. So I advise you to disconnect your pump for take-off and landing as air pressure could cause extra insulin delivery which could cause hypo.
My next trip is in September so I plan to conduct my own little experiment then. Stay tuned for the results.
When You Land – Basal and Time Change
If you are on a pump and have some significantly different basal settings throughout the day you must be sure to change the time on your pump as soon as you land at your new destination. If you are on injections, double check with your diabetes team if you need to make any adjustments to your background insulin.
Like I have said in my 3 carb counting tips for diabetics, I highly recommend the carbs and cals app or my fitness pal for eating out. However, being away from home and your usual phone network you might not be able to connect to the internet. So, again, you could prepare in advance. You could research typical foods in said country, go to your Carbs and Cals app and then take screen shots as I did for my trip to Brussels where I knew I would find waffles and chips. Everyone has a smart phone these day, right? Alternatively, you could look on a computer and write it down on paper. The good old fashioned way.
If you are super high all the time and want to get yourself back down to normal range with some food that you know exactly what it is in it you could go to a local supermarket and pick up some essentials. I always go for cottage cheese, some sort of salad and bread because it keeps me full for ages, it’s easy to carb count and it is a very cheap alternative to eating out. You may want to carry some cutlery around with you for this. I have a little pack that I carry everywhere and it’s so convenient.
When I was in Thailand, my blood sugar was high for pretty much most of the trip and although I increased basal and bolus doses it did not want to come down. I thought it might be due to the heat damaging my insulin, but I think it had more to do with the high level of humidity as I have been in hotter climates. For instance, when I have travelled to Las Vegas in the peak of desert sun I experienced lows and had to reduce my basal for most of the trip. The heat was very dry.
Lesson here – Don’t assume all heat / atmospheres’ work the same way. Always prepare for all eventualities when travelling with diabetes.
If you’re on injections you won’t have to be concerned too much with this part. If you’re on a pump like me you will probably be wondering where to put your pump. I tie my bikini bottoms extra tight (so that the weight off the pump can’t pull them down) when I am walking from A to B. However, when I get into the pool I disconnect and put the pump in a shaded area next to some ice to keep the insulin cool. When I am sunbathing I clip it back on and wrap it in a towel with some ice.
I hope this post is helpful for you and your travel experiences. Travelling with diabetes can be a bit of a pain at times, but if you prepare what you can in advance you will be more able to loosen the reigns a little bit whilst you are on holiday. Allow yourself to recharge your batteries and indulge a little bit. Eat dessert if you are still hungry, drink some wine if you fancy getting tipsy and party all night if you are having a good time. I still workout on holiday because I love it, but I write myself a very efficient workout that I can do in a very short amount of time. It usually combines HIIT training and Yoga. If you don’t want to work out when you’re away, don’t. Just get out of your hotel and walk around. See new things and you’ll be burning plenty of calories; keeping those blood sugars at bay.
Have a great trip.