I have always loved travelling and I haven’t ever let type one diabetes or my Dexcom G6 stop me from travelling or doing the things I love. Having lived with type one diabetes for nearly three decades and being diagnosed at the age of 11, I have always had it accompany me on my adventures.
My first solo travelling experience was when I was aged 22. I decided that I wanted to spend three months teaching and travelling around India. I think the thought of this filled my family with dread especially with concerns as to how I would keep my diabetes under control in such a different climate. The most important thing that I have learned is to be prepared. Travelling with type one diabetes takes more planning and organising and a somewhat heavier backpack than for non-diabetics.
The biggest problem – storing my Insulin
The first thing that I thought about was the temperature in India and also what access I would have to a fridge for my Insulin especially when travelling. I searched online and found an insulin cooling pack. It was lucky I had these packs and I wish I had taken more than one pack with me. I didn’t have quite enough space to fit all my insulin vials in them and the ones that were left out quickly cracked in the heat.
I made sure that I had more than enough diabetic supplies to last for the duration of my trip. It is recommended that you take double the amount of medication needed for your visit. This is useful incase you damage or lose some insulin vials or supplies. It is important to take a copy of your prescription with you and a letter from your GP to say that you need to carry these supplies for your type one diabetes.
You can also get special medical device awareness cards to show at airport security to say that you can’t go through the x-ray scanning machines if you are wearing a Freestyle Libre, Dexcom G6, Omnipod, T-Slim, or any other diabetes devices. I also made sure that I carried my medical supplies on me at all times when at the airport. I found that a waist belt was useful to carry emergency supplies.
It is important that you don’t put insulin in your main suitcase because the cargo area gets too cold for insulin, as it is very cold at the height planes fly. For the plane journey itself it is important to take lots of hypo treats and also snacks that you can eat especially if you aren’t keen or plane meals. I found that drinking lots of water helped as well. When travelling long distances you will also cross different time zones so I set alarms on my phone to tell me when I needed to inject my basal insulin. This is especially important to bear in mind if you are using T-Slim Control IQ or other systems to help manage your diabetes.
When I got there
The highlight of my trip to India was definitely a 48 hour train ride and all the incredible sights seen on the way. I did sample many of the tasty dishes that were given on the journey and I made sure that I tried to keep active and move along the carriages as much as I could. I made sure that I had an extra bag filled with snacks and hypo treats. I found that in heat, my sugar levels would drop quicker and I had more insulin sensitivity. I had to adjust the amount of basal and my ratios very frequently, not only due to the heat but also because it is difficult to estimate the carb count in the exotic dishes.
As I was travelling on my own, I knew how important it was for me to stay healthy and to stay on top of my diabetes management so that I could enjoy everything on my travels. I made sure that I kept in regular contact with my family and friends. I know that some CGMs, like Dexcom, also have a share and alert function for friends and family. Something that I would recommend everyone getting is a travel insurance which takes into account diabetes and any medical conditions caused by diabetes such as retinopathy. I searched on the Diabetes UK website and they had a link to an insurance company that specialises in travel insurance for people with type 1 diabetes.
It is so important as a person living with Type 1 diabetes to know that you can still travel and do all the things non-diabetics do. By being organised and taking time to prepare you can still enjoy travelling to different places around the world whether alone or with family and friends.