I’ve always believed that traveling is one of the best learning experiences out there. There is simply no better way to learn other languages, history, and even a bit about yourself than stepping off a plane and out of your comfort zone.
I learned a little bit about preparation two weeks ago in Palermo, Sicily when my pump broke just 40 hours before our flight back to LAX. I’ve had terrible luck with supposedly waterproof pumps before, but I had never had problems with my Animas Vibe insulin pump, which is supposedly waterproof at 12 ft for up to 24 hours. Sadly the Vibe decided to stop working after just fifteen minutes of submersion at no more that 4 ft of depth. Animas immediately mailed a replacement to my home in San Diego, but I’d have to survive almost forty hours without a basal rate by testing and injecting myself every hour with small amounts of Humalog for almost two days, one of which was spent traveling. Funny enough, because I was testing and injecting every hour, my blood sugars never strayed above 140 mg/dl, but it would have been a lot less exhausting if I had just gotten a bottle of Lantus before leaving the US.
Traveling with type 1 diabetes is not always easy, but with a little extra planning and preparation, you can hopefully avoid most stressful diabetes-related drama on your vacation.
Having traveled to over forty countries and lived for extensive periods of time in foreign countries, I have experienced many an inconvenient diabetic experience abroad. Throughout my travels, I’ve compiled this checklist of supplies and other useful things to pack through trial and error, so now I can breathe a little easier and know I am covered.
- Pens long acting insulin (Turjeo or Lantus…): Even if you’re on a pump like I am, always bring long acting insulin. You never know when your pump might stop working while traveling, and it can be difficult to get a loner pump in a foreign country. If your pump does break while traveling abroad, and trouble-shooting does not work, take a dose of long acting insulin as soon as possible.
- Humalog or NovoLog (or other fast acting insulin): Again, it’s always important to have fast-acting insulin with you. My trick for keeping insulin cool is to carry it in a small thermos with a few ice cubes or an ice pack. Remember to open the thermos when going through airport security.
- Pen needles or syringes: It’s always a good idea to have a few extra pen needles or syringes just in case.
- Test Strips: Even if you have a CGM make sure to pack enough strips to do at least 6 tests per day.
- Pump supplies: If you’re on a pump, make sure to bring a few extra sets. I’ve had sets rip out or fall off in the ocean. Having a few extra sets in your suitcase keeps you covered.
- Sensors: If you have a CGM.
- Extra batteries for your pump: If you’re traveling with lithium batteries make sure to pack these in your carry-on as many airlines do not allow these in checked luggage.
- Prescriptions for insulin/supplies: Airport security may ask for a prescription for any medication you are traveling with… It proves you have type 1 diabetes, and can be useful in foreign airports.
- Alcohol Swabs (3 per day): Alcohol swabs are just great to have with you all the time. Although studies have shown that it is best to wash hands with soap and water and then dry prior to testing blood glucose, if this is not possible, a good old swabbing with some alcohol may be sufficient, although checking twice is recommended in this case.
- Benadryl: You never know when you might have an allergic reaction to an insect bite or something you eat.
- Medical tape: I can’t tell you how many times medical tape has come in handy in the past. You can use it to help keep a pump site or sensor on, but you can also use it to wrap up a blister or cut.
- Advil: self explanatory
- Antibiotics (oral or topical depending on where you’re traveling): Although I’m not a fan of over-prescribing antibiotics, as a type 1 diabetic, it is better to be safe than sorry. Bacterial infections are terrible for glycemic control, so do your best to avoid them while traveling. Wash and sterilize any cuts or scratches you may obtain during your adventures, and avoid drinking unsafe water or eating risky foods. Only take/use antibiotics if you do contract what you believe is a bacterial infection of some kind and cannot obtain adequate medical care. If you do get really sick seek proper medical attention.
What to keep in your Purse/Carry-on
- Glucose tablets (> 2 tubes): or a bag or two of skittles, or other fast-acting sugar source
- Snack bars: Having snacks on hand is crucial for responsible traveling. I always keep a few KIND and or Cliff Bars while traveling to tide me over when running across an airport or new city.
- Back up Insulin pen: I always keep an extra insulin pen with me in case of emergencies.