As a type 1 diabetic, I have found that it’s a good idea to plan for the unexpected when traveling. Life is full of surprises, and so are vacations. The flight is late. The flight has been cancelled. We had a flat tire or ran out of gas. There is an accident on the highway, and the traffic isn’t moving. Who would have ever thought that airline flights would be grounded for five days in most of Eastern Europe because of volcanic ash from an erupting volcano in Iceland? If a diabetic had planned on going for a week-long vacation in England or France and had taken limited insulin, syringes, or infusion sets, he might have been in big trouble. Trying to replenish medical supplies in a foreign country could prove to be very difficult.
Most vacation surprises are good, but some aren’t, and it’s those bad ones that we all need to be prepared for. There is an old saying, “Expect the best, but prepare for the worst.“ When I travel, I assume that surprises will happen and make sure that I am prepared for them. As a type 1 diabetic for over ten years who wears an insulin pump, here are a few of my rules for taking a vacation.
- Pack your diabetic supplies in two locations. If you’re flying, make sure to pack them in your carryon and in your checked luggage, just in case the airline loses your checked bags.
- If you are traveling by car, be sure to bring a cooler to put your insulin in. Also bring plenty of sugary liquids in case you go low.
- Always pack more diabetic supplies than are needed. I pack at least twice as much as I need. You never know when a trip might be delayed.
- Pack copies of all your diabetic prescriptions in case of an emergency.
- Research the names of pharmacies that are near your travel destinations.
- Always have glucose tablets on you.
- Pack extra snacks in your carryon bag or car in case of a bad low. Also, remember that you have to fly or drive back, so pack enough snacks for your trip home.
- Have multiple glucose monitors in different locations with plenty of testing strips.
- Be sure to have a medical alert bracelet or necklace with your specific information on it. I believe that a bracelet is more visible than a necklace to emergency personnel or the police.
- For those of you who wear a pump, take plenty of pump supplies. I have found that infusion sets occasionally fail, so take extras. Don’t forget to bring plenty of batteries for your pump, and bring syringes (with insulin) in case it fails. I personally like to use a Kwik Pen as my back-up plan for pump failures or to administer extra insulin for those big meals.
I realize that diabetes is a very personal disease, and what works for one diabetic might not work for another. What I do know is that once you “get a handle” on what works best for you, then it is important to figure out how you can travel with it. I refuse to let my diabetes hold me back from doing what I want to do, but I am sensible enough to realize that plans change, things happens, surprises occur, and I need to be ready.