I just completed a 10-day cross-country road trip from North Carolina to California, and it was one of the most incredible trips of my life. Many people feel as though we have to travel internationally to have an incredible vacation, but there are beautiful places everywhere. I wanted to experience more of the US, so instead of shipping my car from North Carolina to California, I shipped my books, packed up the car, and drove west. Here are my tips for road-tripping across the country with type 1 diabetes.
1. Keep your insulin cool
I drove across the country in early August, so it was hot. While it was actually a relatively “cool” week, temps were above 90 deg F pretty much everywhere we went. Given that I was moving my entire supply of insulin, I had to figure out how to keep it cool in a hot car. There are a number of ways to keep insulin cool, but I settled on storing my insulin in thermoses with ice and storing the thermoses in a cooler with ice/ice packs. While not all the places we stayed had a fridge or freezer, most places had some kind of ice machine, so I tried to refill the thermoses and cooler with ice every morning before packing up and hitting the road. Other great options are the Frio bags, ViviCap , Insulin Cooler Travel Cases… etc. There are hundreds of great options out there, but without access to a freezer, using an old school thermos and cooler bag was a pretty solid option.
2. Don’t trust that the place you stay will have a fridge
I was surprised by how many hotels and motels we stayed in that no longer offer fridges in the rooms. That being said, some hotels/motels will offer fridges upon request for an added fee. That fee can often be waived if you have a medical condition, so don’t be afraid to ask about options if you need a place to store your insulin. Also, check fridge temps before you throw all your insulin in and fall asleep. Sometimes the fridge won’t be turned on when you arrive or will be way too cold. Adjust the temp if necessary to keep your insulin safe.
3. Find a way to get a workout in
I was lucky enough to have some Hilton points saved up, so a couple of the hotels I stayed in had gyms. When I stayed in a hotel with a gym, I woke up and made sure to get at least a 40 minute workout in before starting my drive. Even in hotels without a gym, I tried to fit a run or strength training routine in before a drive. During parts of my trip, I was also able to fit in hikes or swims or walks outdoors in some of our stops.
4. Plan lots of stops
There are long stretches of road without a bathroom, gas station, or rest stop, so make sure to take advantage of the stops when available. Always start a day with a full tank of gas, fill up when possible, and try to plan to stop at least every 3 hours.
5. Take advantage of stops
Get out of the car to stretch your legs. Walk around, do squats at the pump or lunges in the restroom. Getting a little activity in at a stop can be a game changer for your BGs and focus on a long drive, so take advantage of those stops. Also, ALWAYS try to use the restroom when you do stop as you might not get the chance for a few hours.
6. Keep glucose and snacks easily accessible
I had a few lows during my drive and it was nice to always have a juice in my cup holder, and backup glucose in my center console. I also had one instance where my BG was dropping too quickly and had to pull over to wait for the glucose to kick in.
7. Stay hydrated
It’s tempting to avoid liquids on a long drive so that you minimize bathroom stops. That being said, when you are driving across the country in the middle of August, it’s not recommended to skimp on the water. I missed out on half a day of fun in Colorado due to a nasty headache. Staying hydrated will help you avoid headaches and also may help you maintain better blood sugars.
8. Get in veggies whenever possible
Finding a salad in a sea of fast-food is not always easy. By our third day driving across middle America, my mom and I were starving for some veggies. Luckily, most medium-sized cities have grocery stores. We actually ended up at a Whole Foods in Oklahoma City for lunch/dinner one day where we filled up at the salad bar, and another market in Santa Fe, New Mexico. We tried to limit eating out to once a day and snacked on Perfect bars, dried coconut, nuts, kale chips, bananas, and packs of green olives (Thank you Trader Joes).
9. Be flexible
While we had a general plan to be in Telluride in time for the Jazz festival, and a general route planned, we built in lots of free time to explore. I loved getting to drive across the country as I was able to see sites I might never have known about. Some of the stops we explored included: a blue hole (Santa Rosa, NM), Hot Springs National Park (AK), Lilly Pad Hopyard Brewery (Lancing, TN), Mesa Verde NP (CO), Pagusa Springs (CO)… For more of my stops check back in a week for my upcoming post on the route we took.
10. Bring a travel buddy
I did very little of the trip on my own. My mom covered more than half of the country, and then I picked up Matt in Grand Junction, CO to explore the west. Having a co-pilot (driver) is not only great for splitting up the driving, but also helpful for switching up the podcast/music, handing you glucose, helping you bolus, finding fun stops, and booking places to stay along the drive.
It’s an incredible trip, driving across the country, one that I think most Americans should experience. I’ll be posting my itinerary in a week, so check back on the blog for updates!