By: Jay Hewitt
My diabetes and I have traveled a lot of miles together in nineteen years. Racing Ironman triathlons in Australia, Europe, the Carribean and all over North America, climbing and camping at the top of 14,000 foot Mt. Whitney, and of course dozens of family vacations and business trips. Packing equipment and supplies for an Ironman triathlon and 3 weeks in Australia requires a bit of planning and preparation, but when you have diabetes you feel like you do that for just a weekend out of town. Meters, strips, insulin, syringes, infusion sets, pump supplies, snacks . . . a simple weekend trip becomes a lunar expedition.
Here are my top five tips for traveling with diabetes:
- Bring Extra of Everything. Adopt the NASA triple redundancy system. If one thing breaks or is lost, you have a back up, and another back up. If I will be out of town two nights and will need to change my insulin pump infusion set once, I bring one set plus 3 extras. I bring syringes for a day just in case the pump malfunctions or is damaged.
- Keep Your Diabetes Critical Pouch Packed. My diabetes travel kit stays packed in my home with insulin pump infusion sets, syringes, alcohol swabs and other miscellaneous supplies. I call this my diabetes “critical pouch.” I periodically use and replace each item. Life is too busy to remember to pack each thing every time you leave the house for a night. I just grab that little pack and check the inventory and go. I keep it in a quart size clear plastic freezer bag perfect for airport security and for me to see the contents, and keep it in my carry on bag. I also bring several glucose meters as well.
- Prescriptions at a National Pharmacy. Keep prescriptions for insulin, strips, syringes and any other supplies updated and on file with national pharmacies such as Walgreen’s, CVS, or other chain, even if you get your every day supplies from a local pharmacy or mail order. When you live in Maryland and lose your insulin in Florida, those national chains can refill you there.
- Pack Supplies in Separate Luggage. My diabetes critical pouch stays with me in my carry on bag on a plane and in the car. This pouch contains my insulin so that it is not exposed to heat when my suitcase is left outside or in a car. Packed in my suitcase with my clothes I keep extra supplies such as an extra meter and strips, pump supplies or syringes. Now you are prepared if you get there, but your luggage does not.
- Pack Travel Snacks. My briefcase or backpack always has at least 2 sport bars or other snack to munch on the plane or in the car when my blood sugar gets low. I have extra sport bars packed in my suitcase, and even my glove box. I like sport bars such as Clif Bar because they are packaged and sealed and travel easily in my bags. I also keep a non perishable high carbohydrate drink in a plastic bottle in my car to sip when needed.
When flying across the country or internationally be sure to adjust the time on your insulin pump for your basal rate or injection of long acting insulin to correspond to that new time zone. I make sure I have a bottle of juice or other carb drink in my hotel room. Nothing is worse than waking in the middle of the night with low blood sugar and having to dress and roam the hotel halls for a vending machine. When I travel alone I prefer to err a bit on the high side of normal blood sugar when sleeping because no one is in my hotel room to help if I have a severe low.
Traveling usually means eating different foods, and often at different times, so I tend to test more frequently on the road. A little exercise on the road is always a great way to stabilize blood sugar and refresh your body and mind, especially on a business trip. You knew I would recommend exercise, didn’t you! I always pack my running shoes and clothes on a business trip with a packed schedule just so I can feel better, and enjoy a nice dinner. I love to have dinner within walking distance of my hotel in major cities like Washington or New York so I can walk back and enjoy the conversation and post meal exercise.
A little planning will make for a good trip. Have fun!