A couple of years ago, I decided to take some time off and do some traveling.  I originally planned to take just a year off but I ended up extending it another year.  It was probably the best decision I've ever made.  I learned a lot about myself and met some really great people along the way.

While planning this trip, one of the main things I was concerned about was my diabetes.  I kept thinking about the things that could go wrong.  I was asking myself things, such as:

  • How do I keep my insulin cool?
  • What happens if my luggage gets lost or stolen with all my diabetes supplies in them?
  • Where can I get additional supplies?
  • How much medication should I take with me?
  • Will airport security let me through after seeing all these needles and medication in my luggage?
  • Should I keep paying for insurance back home that I will never use so I won't have any gap in insurance coverage which could result in being denied coverage when I come back home?

Over 125 cities and 28 countries later (in Latin America, Asia, and Europe), nothing bad happened.  My insulin didn't go bad, nothing got stolen, never got questioned by security about the amount of medication I had with me, and Obamacare  got passed a few months after I came back so I didn't have to worry about being denied coverage for pre-existing conditions.

While I didn't need additional diabetes supplies while on the road, finding them should be pretty easy in most big cities.  They're also probably cheaper than back home (if you're from the US).  You may not find the exact medication you use depending on where you are, but you'll find something that will work.

I'd like to share a few tips with fellow diabetics out there who are considering on doing something similar.  This is a lot easier than you think.  Don't let the diabetes stop you from fulfilling your dreams.

Travel light and don't check your luggage with your medication

I traveled with a carry-on backpack so I never had to check my luggage.  It really does make a big difference when you're moving around a lot.  It's nice to be able to carry everything with me whenever I'm on the move.

Also, don't worry about bringing too much supplies with you.  I brought a 6-month supply which took up a third of my backpack and it was never an issue. Actually, most of the time I never got asked about them.  At some point I stopped taking them out of my pack when passing through security checkpoints and never had a problem.

If traveling this light is just not an option for you, make sure that you don't check in your diabetes supplies with your luggage as it's not that uncommon for luggage to get lost.

Bring proof that you're diabetic

I only got asked for this one time at the Hong Kong airport which was actually a separate trip from this one.  I didn't bring the box for my insulin pens which had my name on it and the airport staff was giving me a hard time taking them with me on board.

Luckily, there was free Wi-Fi and I was able to show them the online receipt of my last prescription order from my phone (gotta love technology).

Bring some proof with you.  It can be a doctor's note or copies of your prescriptions.

Keep your insulin cool with a cooling wallet (or just wrap them in clothing)

If you're going somewhere where it could get very hot, it may be a good idea to get a few of these FRIO cooling wallets.  All you have to do is soak it in cold water and these tiny crystals inside the wallet will turn into gel in a few minutes.  The gel form provides insulation for your insulin.  The crystals will stay in gel form for about 2 days, so you only need to re-soak the wallet every couple of days.

I bought a few of these before I left but I actually never had to use them.  Just wrapping my insulin pens in clothing did the trick and none of my insulin went bad.  But it's good to have at least one of these in case you're planning to be out in the sun for long hours at a time and don't have anything to provide insulation (e.g. spending a day on the beach).

Protect your feet

You'll be doing a lot of walking. Get comfy, breathable shoes and make sure you break them in. If you're planning on escaping the cold winters by timing your visits, then don't worry about heavy waterproof boots.

I got a pair of these Merrell Chameleon hiking shoes.  They're a great all-around travel shoes and lighter than you think.  I got a pair of the black ones and they look nice enough to wear in more formal settings.  I still wear them regularly even now.

You will also want a decent pair of socks that will help protect your feet from blisters.  I'm a fan of the Smartwool brand.

Always have food/sweets on you

For most insulin-dependent diabetics, this is probably already obvious, but I just wanted to stress how important this is. 

When you're out on the road, you'll probably be a lot more active.  You could be out exploring a new city for hours, checking out some old ruins, hiking volcanoes, salsa dancing with the locals, scuba diving, practicing Muay Thai, etc. You want to be prepared when your blood sugar drops.

I actually lost quite a bit of weight just after a few months on the road and noticed my insulin sensitivity went up.  I had to cut my insulin intake by more than half as I would feel low just an hour later.

There were a few rare occasions when I woke up in the middle of the night feeling low and really glad I had some granola bars in my backpack to bring my blood glucose back up.

Tags: t1d, travel

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