It’s always best to be prepared when you’re travelling overseas, but when you’re travelling with diabetes, preparation becomes even more essential.
Follow these top tips to ensure that your trip is as smooth and stress-free as possible:
Be medically prepared
Make sure you have adequate supplies of all your medication, including twice as much insulin, syringes or pens, needles or tablets as you’ll need, and all your blood glucose monitoring equipment – strips, lancets and, importantly, a spare battery for your meter.
Also be aware of temperature fluctuations while travelling – insulin may be able to stay cool in the hold of an aeroplane, but will often heat up while travelling by bus. When it comes to medical supplies, there’s no such thing as being too prepared.
Carry snacks at all times
There’s nothing worse than going low when there are no shops in sight. Pack some extra carbohydrates in your hand luggage, both to counteract any low blood sugar levels (something sweet like juice or sweets) and to stop the gap in between meals if you get hungry (something like savoury biscuits or nuts).
It’s also useful to have snacks on you for long flights, as the meal times are often different to what you’re used to. Try to keep your meal times as regular as possible, while taking time differences into account.
When you’re travelling, you want to stay as healthy as you possibly can. Getting sick in a foreign place, where you have to be on the move or don’t know how to speak the language is no fun at all. Remember that diabetes increases your vulnerability to infections.
Try to be extra healthy before and during your trip – drink lots of water, eat well, and do moderate exercise. Also get all the recommended immunisations, at least six weeks before you go, so that any side-effects can have worn off.
Be easy to identify
Get yourself a diabetes identity card or jewellery, if you don’t already have one of these. Medic Alert – Medicalert.com – is the leading personal health record repository, and is recognised worldwide. This means all your necessary information is stored in their database. It's also an instantly recognisable way to show that you’re diabetic.
If you’re travelling with other people, make sure they will be able to recognise your symptoms if you go low, and can get you the right kind of snack, or sugar.
Learn to communicate
While it’s always helpful to be able to speak the language of the country you’re in, it’s extra helpful when you have diabetes. Make sure to learn a few useful phrases in the language of your destination.
Things like, "I have diabetes; please give me something sugary to eat" will come in handy in an emergency, and being able to ask for juice or water is always convenient. Also learn the phrase for "Can I have vegetables instead of chips or rice?" as you never know when you might need a veggie fix.
Most of all, enjoy your journey, wherever it takes you. Remember to take time for exploring, but also time to rest. Recognise the effect that lots of walking might have on your blood sugar levels, and do yourself a favour by not overdoing it.
With a little bit of planning and plenty of attention to how you’re feeling while you’re away, there’s no reason why diabetes should stop you having the time of your life.
- Bridget McNulty, Health24, October 2009
Bridget McNulty is the author of Strange Nervous Laughter and is a Type 1 diabetic.