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February 16, 2024

Passport in One Hand, Insulin Pump in the Other: Navigating Travel with Type 1 Diabetes.

Forget travel brochures and cheesy airport montages—the reality of globetrotting with Type 1 Diabetes is an adventure in itself.

At 17, I have already lived with Type 1 Diabetes for a decade.

The early years after the diagnosis were years of discovery and learning and challenges for me and my family, but my family has ensured that I experienced a regular and interesting childhood, which included vacations and travels.

Sure, there are logistical hurdles, packing Tetris with medical supplies, and the ever-present hum of the insulin pump, but trust me, the rewards far outweigh the challenges. So, fellow diabetes warriors, buckle up as we embark on a journey proving wanderlust and chronic conditions can coexist beautifully.

Mental Hurdles:

Let’s be honest, the first hurdle is mental. The fear of “what ifs” can be paralyzing. But here’s the secret: preparation is your superpower. Research your destination’s healthcare availability, pack essential supplies (extra insulin, syringes/pump cartridges, glucagon), and definitely get travel insurance specifically for diabetics. Knowledge is power, and being prepared empowers you to embrace the unknown with confidence.

Pack like a pro:

1. Think multipurpose:

Pack clothes that layer easily for fluctuating temperatures. Opt for quick-drying fabrics to combat unexpected laundry situations. Travel-sized containers are your best friends for organizing medications and toiletries. Remember, space is precious, so be ruthless in your packing choices.

2. Medications are MVPs (most valuable players):

Pack enough insulin for double your trip duration (delays happen!), backup needles, syringes, or pump cartridges, and keep them accessible, ideally in a separate bag. Inform airport security about your medical supplies. Pro tip: invest in a small cooler pack for insulin if travelling to hot climates.

A few years ago, I was using the wireless pump with omnipods and it was my first time traveling while using those. My family and I went to a beach vacation several flight hours away from home and something really scary happened.

We had taken two boxes of omnipods, each having several pods. When I had to change the pod after getting there, I inserted the new pod, but it failed. We tried a different one. Every pod in the two boxes failed! We did not understand what was happening. But it was a nightmarish situation. We called our doctor who advised us to connect with the manufacturer, and upon calling the company, we were told that putting the pods through the security scanner at the airport caused them to malfunction. We were able to arrange for alternative insulin delivery, but this was a scary lesson.

Airport security is a big challenge while traveling with devices and medical supplies.

3. Embrace technology:

Download offline maps and medical translation apps. Consider a continuous glucose monitor (CGM) for real-time blood sugar monitoring—a game-changer for managing unfamiliar environments. There are even apps that help you find nearby pharmacies and clinics, just in case.

4. Food as Fuel:

Research local dietary options beforehand and pack diabetes-friendly snacks like nuts, granola bars, and low-carb fruits. Portion control is key, so pack reusable containers for portioning meals on the go. Don’t be afraid to try local cuisine, but be mindful of ingredients and adjust portions accordingly.

I always keep snacks handy and in my carry-on luggage while on a flight. While traveling, if the day involves a lot of walking and sightseeing, sugar levels tend to dip and regular intake of food is important. On the other hand, if I know that I am going to be sitting for a longer duration, like on a road trip or a long flight, the glucose tends to be high, so I make sure I don’t eat things beforehand or during that will cause my sugars to spike.

Communication is king:

Inform airlines and travel companies about your diabetes. Carry a doctor’s note and wear a medical ID bracelet. Speak up if you need adjustments during flights or tours, and don’t hesitate to seek help if needed. Clear communication prevents unnecessary stress and ensures a smooth journey. Go several hours ahead of flight time to manage these challenges—I learnt this the tough way.

Till recently, there wasn’t much awareness about Type 1 Diabetes in India and other parts of the world, so often the security staff wouldn’t understand our insistence on manual checks and bypassing the scanners for devices and medical supplies, and we’d had to wait for hours till they consulted and finally let us through. It can still be a challenge and we are always prepared with information, and of course, arrive with ample time at hand.

Embrace spontaneity but with caution:

Detours and unexpected adventures are part of the travel magic. Just remember to stay hydrated, carry emergency snacks, and be mindful of how activities might affect your blood sugar. A little flexibility goes a long way in making memories, not meltdowns.

Some challenges that you might face:

>> Time zone changes: Adjusting your insulin regimen requires careful planning and communication with your doctor. Make sure you do that well before your travel date.

>> Finding healthy food options: Researching restaurants and supermarkets beforehand can help you navigate unfamiliar diets.

>> Language barriers: Communication can be challenging, especially if you need medical assistance. Downloading translation apps and learning basic phrases beforehand can help.

>> Lost or damaged supplies: Always pack extra supplies and consider getting travel insurance specifically for diabetics.

>> Unexpected illness: Being prepared with medications and knowing where to find medical help is crucial.

I feel, in recent years, there is a lot more awareness about Type 1 Diabetes and people are more understanding. My family and I have also learned what possible challenges can arise and how to manage them and be well-prepared.

Most importantly, be kind to yourself:

Traveling with Type 1 Diabetes is an accomplishment, not a burden. Celebrate your wins, big and small. Take breaks when needed, adjust your routine as necessary, and remember, you are capable, adaptable, and an inspiration to others.

So, ditch the doubts, pack your bags, and get ready to explore the world with your trusty insulin pump as your travel companion. Remember, Type 1 Diabetes doesn’t define you; it refines your travel adventures. Embrace the challenges, savour the victories, and create memories that will last a lifetime.

Now, who’s ready to conquer that dream destination?

~

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