There’s always a certain angst getting ready to go away on holiday. Have you definitely, really, 100% packed your passport (after checking 3 times already)? How many euros are we actually going to need (as opposed to the optimistic €40 a day budget we’ve set)? And seriously – have we packed enough proper tea bags (us Brits know the struggle)?!
You get the idea – there’s often a fair amount of stress and faffing involved in the few days before travelling. But, as usual, chuck diabetes into the mix and the preparation process gets a wholeeee lot jazzier.
I’ve never had any ‘problems’ as such with travelling and diabetes so far. No security man has confiscated all of my needles, I’ve only once (luckily on the way home) accidentally packed my insulin in my hold luggage and left it to freeze mid-flight (opps), and – a more recent worry – my Freestyle Libre sensor still works after going through the airport security scanner (don’t worry, it doesn’t magically break like I worried it might…).
But that doesn’t mean that travelling with diabetes isn’t a headache. There’s a lot of organisation needed and it’s good to prep for the ‘what if’ scenario – plus, if you’re able to grab a friend or two to travel with, it can be a real help (shoutout to my lovely pals who took it in turns to lug my spare insulin around Europe when we went Interrailing – you guys are top 👌). So, as I’m currently in the holiday sprit, I thought I’d share some ideas/ personal recommendations which, in my experience, have made travelling with diabetes that litttttle bit smoother.
Get your supplies ready
Bit of a boring one but it’s gotta be done. Work out how many days you’re going away for, how many injections and blood sugar tests you’re likely to do, how much insulin you take on average a day, and check what you’ve got in stock. Probably best to do this a few weeks ahead so that you’ve got time to order extra bits if need be. Also think about things like spare blood meters and batteries, and LANCETS – I know we all hate them but DO pack some! Honestly – I learnt my lesson on my first snowboarding trip last year where my one and only lancet drum busted and I had to stab my finger with insulin needles on the side of a mountain every hour – not that fun.
To be over-prepared, I always pack for ‘extra’ – at the moment, I probably fluctuate from 3-6 injections a day (food depending!), but have packed enough needles for 8 injections a day just to be on the safe side. With that in mind, think about where you are going – I’m currently on the plane to Italy, meaning that I have a (glorious) fortnight of pizza, pasta, gelato and prosecco ahead of me – so actually, with all the extra carb-guessing games I’m going to enjoy, 8 injections a day probably isn’t that far off…!
Pack double, and pack it in your hand luggage
After doing everything I said above – do it again. I’ve always been advised by doctors to take double the medication I will need on holiday, just incase any gets lost/stolen/ left in a fridge etc. If possible, when travelling with others, ask someone (nicely!) to carry the spare set for you – just as if both sets are in your bag and your bag gets nicked or misplaced then… well you could be a bit buggered. Another important point if you’re flying is to keep your medication in your hand luggage instead of the hold. For starters, frozen insulin is a no-no (it probably won’t work). And also, hold bags have that fun chance of not turning up in your destination with you – again, leaving you medication-less and undoubtedly pissed off.
Get a doctors note (preferably sooner than the day of your flight)
Your GP or DSN will be able to supply you with a letter confirming that you have Type 1 Diabetes, and that you will need to carry sharps and insulin in your hand luggage. If you’re lucky like me, the surgery will even charge you £25 for the privilege. But stupid fees aside, it’s important to carry this with you, just incase your bag gets stopped at security and you’re left tying to explain why you have a bag full of banned liquids and syringes.
*Side note – running down to the GPs surgery on the morning of your flight to Florida pleading with the receptionist to ask any Doctor possible to sign one there and then because you’ve been so wrapped up in Uni that thinking about this ahead of the holiday was the last thing on you’re mind ISN’T that fun. So maybe don’t do that….
Think about your holiday climates and holiday plans
Off snowboarding for a week (you lucky thing!)? My blood glucose meter doesn’t cope to well in cold temperatures, so make sure to keep it somewhere warm like an inside pocket of a ski jacket, and consider wrapping it up in a sock or something. Also – remember that skiing/boarding is very physical, so maybe think about tweaking your basal insulin amounts to counteract this (I quickly got known as ‘Twix girl’ on my year abroad in Switzerland for the shear volume of Twix’s I would eat to get me through a day of boarding – a name I’m very proud of).
Flip this to a relaxing holiday in the sun, and cue the potential for more heat-related hypos and meter failures. I’ve read recently that the Libre can sometimes fail if it gets too hot – now, as I live in England, this has obviously never been an issue I’ve had to consider before, but will have to cross my fingers that Italy treats me kindly.
It’s also important to keep an eye on the temperature of your insulin, as both being too cold or hot can reduce it’s potency and prevent it from working properly. For the hot trips, I’d recommend taking your insulin in ‘Frio’ bags – you can grab these easily online, and they are packs which ‘swell up’ when you soak them in water and keep their contents (e.g. your insulin) cool. I’m not sure on the ins and outs of how they work, but I do know that they’re pretty clever and great for trips where you might not have access to a fridge (aka backpacking around Europe), or have some long hot car journeys involved.
Finally – don’t panic!
People deal (amazingly well) with diabetes EVERYWHERE – so if you forget you blood sugar test strips, or run out of glucotabs – don’t panic! You’ll always be able to purchase diabetes supplies somewhere else. Yes they may cost a bit, or they may not be your ‘normal’ branded insulins or the green-capped needles you’re used to, but they (and you!) will be fine. When we forgot to pack needles for a 2 week holiday to America when I was younger, I admit that, at first, we did panic a little – but all it took was a 10 minute conversation in a pharmacy and we were walking away with 2 boxes of the beauties.
I guess the few things I would recommend to add to the packing list here would be:
– Travel insurance (declaring and covering type 1 diabetes – apologies, it does cost a bit more)
– EHIC card (where applicable – enjoy it whilst you can Brits!)
– Something like this:
My GP kindly gave these insulin reference cards to me at my last appointment and I reckon they could be a good guide to the insulin types you take if you ever find yourself in need of insulin and there’s a slight/massive language barrier.
Last but not least – ENJOY your holiday! Eat, drink, explore, relax – do everything you want (and remember to bolus!)