Diabetes and the Globetrotting You
A common stress shared by nearly everyone is the act of traveling – be it business or pleasure, in country or out of country, traveling is a process that demands organization and preparedness. When traveling as a diabetic there are several other dimensions of worry that come into play, from traveling with your medicine to understanding the possibility of new food in a new culture. From personal experience there are several ways to prepare your diabetic-oriented mind and body for travel – be it for a few days or an extended period of time.
Recently I took a trip to an island of glaciers, waterfalls, volcanoes, green mountains and black sand – a country the size of Kentucky and only occupied by 300,000 people. I’m speaking of Iceland, a beautiful place that at some junctures doesn’t seem like it’s actually part of the planet we inhabit. As much fun as I had preparing and researching for the short four day trip, I spent a good amount of time doing what any good diabetic should when they leave their comfort zone, that is, taking the necessary steps to ensure responsible blood sugar management in a foreign place.
The initial step for travel with diabetes should be visiting your endocrinologist and diabetes educator. If you’re trying to successfully manage your disease while truly on the go, ensuring you’ve got a handle on diabetes at home is the all-important first step. These appointments can advise and cover you on many of the questions and confusion that diabetics can run into when preparing to travel.
One wrinkle for diabetics in travel is the change in timing for scheduled injections – in my case, a daily evening shot of Lantus. Making sense of time zone changes and injections, be it a four-hour difference in Iceland or six hours in Honolulu, can be a difficult and daring process on your own. Your diabetes educator can properly prepare you for the change, in most cases through subtle yet gradual changes in the timing of your injection to match the zone change you will be going through.
Next you have to understand the amount of supplies to bring and the rules and regulations that apply to these items when traveling. In my experience, bringing double what’s necessary for syringes/pens, testing supplies and such will prepare you well for any losses that could happen. Contact the airline or airport to better understand their liquid limits and talk to your doctor if your travel circumstances are longer than usual.
For my six months of traveling Italy and Europe, the planning between my doctors and the insurance company was carefully coordinated and executed in advance to avoid stress. Be it travel for an extended duration or merely a few days, an official doctor’s note is an essential step in avoiding or diffusing any problems that can arise during your check in with your medicine. A significant amount of your medical supplies should be kept in your carry on to avoid the possibility that they can be lost in transition. My brother lost his teddy bear Foo-Foo when our family was traveling to Arizona in the mid 90’s and he still hasn’t recovered. Imagine the catastrophe that would be losing the things you need to live?
Now you’re finally in another country and ready to explore – climb the mountains, swim the oceans and of course eat the food. Looking into the culture and delicacies of a country beforehand can help assuage the headache that comes from carb counting with new foods. When I read that Iceland’s shark dishes have such strong smell and taste to the point they can induce vomiting, I had a feeling I wasn’t going to be eating much shark.
But what else did they have to offer? It helps to know not just the meals themselves but their composition as well. Do you have restaurants picked out to eat at ahead of time? Try looking into their menus online. Though you may not find exactly the nutritional information that stringent and responsible diabetics desire, you will obtain a better grasp of what you are ingesting and thus understand how to inject and treat accordingly to a better extent.
Finally, be prepared for an emergency – much like you would be at home. Bring your favorite snack and carry it on you in case of a hypoglycemic episode. For me, having a few Nature Valley bars on person ranging between 27-30 grams of carbs is a perfect antidote for a low. Make sure you wear your medical ID or bracelet and know how to say “diabetes” in a foreign tongue. Know the phone numbers of your endocrinologist, their emergency line if they have one and talk to the person at the front desk of where you’re staying for advice on medical emergencies. Helping you is their job and they are (usually) more than happy to do it.
Although traveling is stressful for everyone and even more so for diabetics, this shouldn’t discourage you to let the disease keep you from exploring. With proper precautionary measures and knowledge, traveling with diabetes can be simplified and a great deal more painless. That being said, I think the subtle angle of this post was boosting the tourism industry of Iceland. As diabetics we are extraordinary people and I can assure Iceland is an extraordinary place!