Diabetes Self-Management Blog

Travel is great, but can be frustrating, especially if you arrive at your destination at 5:45 AM Tuesday, your checked baggage doesn’t catch up with you until 3:45 PM Wednesday, and nobody answers the phone at the local numbers given so you have to call overseas—twice—to get any information regarding the whereabouts of your bag. It’s bad enough when it leaves you with not much more than the clothes on your back—which aren’t warm enough for the
season—but worse when the children of the household you’re visiting have to wait one more day to find out what “Auntie Jan” brought them.

For background: I am in Germany as I write this. (I’ll be enduring the long flight back home when it posts.) My best friend’s husband is in the military, and home is where the army sends them. Right now, “home” is in Heidelberg. Nancy and I have been enjoying some long-awaited girlfriend time, chatting, watching funny videos, and getting our exercise by shopping from one end of the Hauptstrasse—a cobblestone street lined with shops and eateries—to the other. It’s one of Germany’s longest, with not nearly enough benches to rest on, but the shopping is wunderbar and the price of Birkenstocks is less than half what they cost in the United States.

But, back to the trip. While the airline sent my luggage to Denver even as it flew me to Frankfurt, I am well aware of the “rules” of traveling when you have diabetes: Never put your “stuff” in your checked baggage. It could go to Colorado—or stay in Fairbanks, Alaska, as it did earlier this year.

While I tend to throw my clothing into my checked baggage at the last minute, my medicines and supplies always take first, and very careful, consideration. Only twice have I ever taken off and left an essential medicine behind. Luckily, that was remedied in both cases by going to one of the pharmacies in the chain I use, where the pharmacist was able to access my prescription.

I was concerned about the amount of things I was putting in my carry-on, since guidelines both in the United States and in Europe say that people with diabetes can carry on enough medicine and food for the duration of the flight. I knew that I needed to carry on enough medicine and supplies—plus some—to last me through the entire trip. Would security allow two gallon-sized plastic bags, one filled with medicines and one with supplies, to go through? Not a problem. I merely took the two bags out of my little wheeled tote and put them in one of the bins provided so security could easily eyeball the contents.

To cut down on space, I had my pharmacy give me small vials with my prescription labels on them so I could carry enough medicine to last the trip without having to lug along the larger vials that hold 90 days worth of pills. I also got a label to attach to a 10-pack of insulin syringes (since the label is commonly on a box of 100 syringes) and got copies of all of my prescriptions as a backup.

While a note from your doctor is unnecessary in the United States, some foreign carriers require that you have one. It’s always best to check with the carrier(s) you will be taking to make sure you have the necessary documentation.

My other concern was food. I like to take my own food so I’ll know what I’m eating and don’t have to conform to the airline’s schedule. On my trip over, dinner was served at about 4 PM in my time zone. I don’t eat dinner at 4 PM and, besides, I was busy taking a nap. However, security waved my bag on through, sandwich, small bag of crackers, and all. I did wait to buy a bottle of water until after I got through security.

Speaking of food, one of my former dietitians gave me a tip that’s allowed me to visit a lot of unfamiliar places without blowing my blood glucose too badly: Look up recipes from the country, or area, you’ll be visiting so you’ll know the content of the more popular dishes. I used to have to check out cookbooks from the library; now I just “google” them.

If your life included travel before, diabetes shouldn’t stop you now. If you have questions about any aspect of caring for your diabetes when you travel, just ask your health-care professional. My first endocrinologist didn’t bat an eye when one of the first questions out of my mouth during my first visit was, “Can you get me to Korea and back?”

Just don’t forget to check your airline’s rules, take your medicines and supplies on board with you, and carry enough food for a meal or, at least, an emergency. And try to remember to at least throw a pair of jammies, a toothbrush, and a light jacket into your carry-on.

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