Finding snacks or emergency rations can be a problem in foreign countries, but I try to buy locally whenever possible so that I can save my packed supplies as a last resort. Since foods in other countries are not always labeled as they are in the United States, estimating the contents and the carbohydrate counts can sometimes be complicated. Usually, however, there will be something of a familiar nature at the local market. I have found small hard candies, roasted nuts, crackers, cheese, and canned fruit everywhere, even in remote Guatemalan villages. If you count carbohydrates regularly at home, your educated guess at the food ingredients and values is usually accurate enough for a meal supplement or snack. A good food count value book may also be useful in this situation.
When dining in foreign countries where “traveler’s diarrhea” is common, a good rule of thumb is to avoid local water except in better hotels that specifically state that their water is safe for travelers (and that their ice is made with the same purified water). Otherwise, and whenever there is any doubt, bottled drinking water is my first choice. Remember that bottled water should be used for brushing teeth in these situations and that ice cubes should be avoided since they could be made with unpurified water.
Safe foods are usually those that are cooked and very hot throughout; products made with boiled water like coffee, tea, and soups; and fresh fruits that can be peeled such as bananas, oranges, grapefruit, and melons. Fresh, uncooked vegetables and salads should be avoided because they are often washed in unpurified water. Other products to watch out for are raw shellfish, unpasteurized dairy products, food from street vendors (unless piping hot or boiling), and any food that has been left sitting out. Experts now believe that the contaminated hands of food preparers and handlers cause more illness than contaminated water; when in doubt, canned foods and bottled water are always a safe bet.
The climate changes I have encountered when traveling have had little impact on my blood glucose levels and my ability to manage them. More humid areas sometimes make it more difficult to keep my pump infusion set in place, but then I simply use an adhesive dressing to cover the site. This type of product is available at any pharmacy. As an alternative, clear plastic tape, also sold at any pharmacy, can be used to secure the site.
Arid regions pose a different concern, namely dry skin. I find I need to increase my use of skin moisturizers in dry air. Sunscreen and shower gels are also helpful.
Pay particular attention to the condition of your feet in different climates. Excessive dryness or sweating can lead to irritation and infection, which can then result in further problems. I find that a good skin lotion applied early in the morning beneath socks can help keep my feet softer during dry weather. Foot powders designed to absorb excess moisture can be used when wearing tennis shoes, hiking boots, or heavier socks in warmer weather. It is especially important to choose good, comfortable, walking shoes for sightseeing and traveling, and it’s a good idea to bring at least two pairs of shoes in case one gets wet. Always “break in” new shoes at home before the trip to assure that they can be worn comfortably for several hours without pinching you or giving you blisters. Shower shoes (like thongs, flip-flops, or swim shoes) are helpful for preventing infections from any less-than-sanitary floors you might encounter and for protecting your feet from the heat on the beach or at poolside.
A big world to see
Like many things in life, travel tends to get easier with experience. As you go to new places and try new things, you will learn which items you cannot live without and which are simply taking up space in your luggage. You will also learn how best to take care of your diabetes when you’re away from home. But you don’t have to figure it all out on your own. Use the tips in this article, talk to your diabetes health-care team, and ask your friends with diabetes about their experiences. When you’re armed with information, you can make informed choices and plan ahead with confidence. There’s a big world to see, experience, and enjoy.