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Travelling with diabetes: Create memories, not stress

Guest article by Phyllisa Deroze

Travelling is my favorite hobby. As a kid, I treasured my family's summer trips, driving to visit relatives. I fell in love with travelling because it gave me opportunities to see new places, try different foods and create memorable moments. As a college student, I spent hours on the internet planning trips to places that I couldn't afford to visit in real life. Today, I'm fortunate to travel several times a year and I have visited more than ten countries since being diagnosed with diabetes.

It was scary at first. When I was newly diagnosed, diabetes management seemed so complicated and rigid that the thought of adding spontaneous exploration and sightseeing into my life terrified me. I worried about insulin staying cool on long flights, running out of strips or experiencing low blood sugar in an unfamiliar place. Through trial and error, I am now more confident about travelling with diabetes and I hope that these tips will help you plan your next trip with confidence.

Creating lists is the best way for me to plan and enjoy travelling. First, I create a list based on the type of travel I am preparing for, writing down key items I need to bring and tasks I want to do. I always plan to check my blood sugar more often when travelling, so my supplies appear at the top of every list. Four of my most common travel lists are:

  • Short-stay travel (overnight or up to a week): When the travel is brief, I focus on having enough medication for the trip, a way to check my blood sugar, at least two or three items to correct low blood sugar, a medical ID card and a medical ID bracelet. Fortunately, short trips don't require much more thought than the preparation I use in my daily life.

  • Long-stay travel (more than a week): My biggest consideration when being away from home for longer periods is making sure I don't run out of medication or strips. I carry everything for short-stay travel, plus backups. I refill prescriptions as needed and put extra items in a separate suitcase to avoid an emergency if a bag is misplaced. I have enough snacks to get me through the first day and night of my stay in case I am unable to get to the store when I arrive. I consider packing more than one pair of shoes to accommodate different activities and to give my feet a break if one style proves to be uncomfortable.

  • Airplane travel: Flying is often stressful. Being stressed about forgetting something, the security check process and the hours that can pass by before I reach the boarding gate usually cause my blood sugar to dip or to spike. I always pack my diabetes supplies in my carry-on luggage so I can get to them when needed, and I know they'll make it to my destination. I wear an engraved diabetes medical ID bracelet when flying, because I find that people are more likely to help me when they can see proof of my condition. I started carrying a doctor's note for medication and medical devices after being asked for a letter when I elected out of the x-ray machine because of my blood glucose monitoring device.

  • Travelling to another country: I'm always excited about going abroad, but it requires detailed preparation. Here are some of the steps I take:

    • When I travel to a country where I don't speak the native language, I learn how to say, "I live with diabetes" and "I have low blood sugar" in the local language. I also write these phrases on paper and keep them with me.

    • I make sure to know the local emergency number, because 911 doesn't work in most places outside Canada and the U.S.

    • I research the name and the location of the closest hospital to where I am staying.

    • I request diabetes meals on flights—for the carb balance and because specialty meals are served first, as my blood sugar is often lowered from the stress of moving through the airport.

    • I check my blood sugar more often than usual because changes in my eating habits, adjusting to a new time zone and changes in my activity level all have an effect on my blood sugar.

Initially, I kept these lists in a notebook. Now I prefer to use an app on my cell phone because it's easy to update and keep track as my management routine changes. Having lists for various types of travel and updating them when I encounter new situations is extremely helpful for my success when travelling. I encourage you to think about your most frequent travels (train trips, vacation cruises or even long commutes to and from work).

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