Travelling with diabetes

I bet everyone is excited when going on vacation. The new adventures, places to visit and all the food to discover. However, being a diabetic adds up little challenges in every step of travelling, even when packing. I am flying really soon to the Caribbean so I thought it is a perfect opportunity to write about travelling with type one diabetes and how to prepare to deal with all the unexpected events that can come along.

PACKING YOUR SUPPLIES

A lot of times before travelling, I tell people that I need to pack my stuff, and the answer I always get is: ''oh that won’t take too long!''.Wrong. Packing my clothes, shoes, makeup etc. doesn’t take too long, but when that is done, I have another whole packing to do! I have to be focused and organized to pack my diabetes supplies and it can take me more than an hour to do so. In my opinion, this part can take a while not because I have a lot of things to pack, but because it is so hard to estimate how many supplies I need, plus I don’t want to overpack or underpack. I learned though that it is better to be safe than sorry, so better make that suitcase full of supplies (just keep in mind the weight limit!).

Here is a list of things that you NEED to have with you on your trip, anytime, anywhere:

  • Insulin (rapid and long lasting)
  • A Frio cooling case ( to keep your insulin cool) 
  • Glucose meter (I bring 2 just in case)
  • Batteries or charger for meter
  • Insulin pen
  • Needles and/or syringes
  • Lancets
  • Test strips
  • Alcohol swabs
  • Glucagon kit
  • Ketone test strips
  • Glucose tabs
  • Snacks
  • Prescriptions from the doctor (or copies)
  • Medical bracelet (if you have one)

For pump users: 

  • A vacation loaner pump (if possible)
  • Cartridges
  • Infusion sets
  • Extra battery cap and cartridge cap
  • Extra clip
  • Case to put your pump (when going swimming for example)
  • Thigh band (for girls/ when wearing a dress)
  • Batteries
  • A list of your current pump settings
  • Insulin pump travel card

For CGM users:

  • Sensors
  • Your receiver
  • Skin Tac (or any other skin preparation adhesive)

AIRPORT SECURITY

I’ve had both good and bad experiences while travelling with type one diabetes. Before I got the pump, I rarely had any problems while going through security. I would put my insulin and needles in the bin that goes through the X-Ray screening and in most cases, won’t have any comments and just go on. The few times that I was asked to open my bag, I would only tell the agents that I had type one diabetes and the security staff would be very understanding and let me go. I would also keep with me a letter from my doctor explaining that I need my insulin and needles (or pens) for my disease,but if I remember correctly, I only used it once.

Then, I got the insulin pump. Oh the pump, the deadly weapon as viewed by the security staff at airports. Let’s not forget about the CGM, another out of this world device. The first time I traveled with my Dex was, let’s be honest, not really fun and really frustrating. I was going through security in the States and of course, I started beeping in the metal detector. I then told them that I couldn’t go in the X-Ray machine because I have a device on me. At that moment, the struggles began. I had to wait for a female TSA agent since I asked for a pat down. I waited around 25 minutes, hearing the staff yelling: ''We need a female agent for a pat down''. Yes, I said yelling, instead of them talking to each other by walkie-talkie. When the lady finally came, she was so rude to me for no obvious reason, like asking for a manual search makes you the meanest of all the people at the airport. The manual search didn’t take long, but I had to put my fingerprints on some paper, and she even inspected my hair. So, all I have to say when travelling with a CGM and/or a pump is: don’t be late before boarding the plane cause you might spend some time at security point!

Not all of my experiences were that chaotic! While leaving from Canada, I had a Dex and a pump. Like in the previous story, I beeped, asked for a pat down, then the lady agent was right there at the right time.  I remember that some agents were really confused about my pump, not knowing what it was. However, the agent that was doing my manual search knew about it and was really understanding and kind. The whole process took 5 minutes and off I went!

Therefore, here is what I would recommend when going through security:

  1. Always warn the security staff that you have a device, insulin or a pump on or with you. This makes the process go much faster and you won’t have to wait for your turn before they start asking you questions.
  2. Stay calm. Even if some people might judge you or don’t understand what you’re wearing or carrying, it is better to explain to them calmly that you have diabetes and that you need those supplies. Not everyone knows about all of the things that we need to carry.
  3. Stay vigilant. You can stay calm, but don’t let people manipulate your supplies without any care. If the way they’re manipulating your insulin, pump, or any other supply makes you uncomfortable, or makes you worry because of hygiene, you have to let them know.
  4.    Always carry a paper, either from your doctor or your pump company, saying that you need insulin, and if it's the case, that you can’t go through X-Rays with your pump and/or CGM.
  5. You can put your insulin through the X-Ray screening machine. I have done it a lot of times before and my insulin was never affected.
  6. For CGM users:  Never ever put your sensors (even the unused ones) through X-rays, as well as the receiver and the transmitter.
  7.    For insulin pump users: the same goes for the pump. Don’t ever expose it to X-Rays, even the loaner pump that you may have gotten for your trip.

WHILE ON THE TRIP

HAVE FUN! Since our lifestyle changes while being on vacation, it is normal to have our BG levels affected by that, but remember, it is not a reason not to have fun! Depending on your destination, you can have more hypos since you are walking and hiking or, on the contrary, you can have hypers since you are relaxing on the beach and drinking sweet drinks. You will either have to adjust your insulin to reduce your dosage and maybe eat more snacks, or you will have to do more corrections and change your ratios while eating, but in both ways, tell yourself that it is only temporary.

Have fun, relax, and make diabetes fit your new lifestyle!

- Judy