I’m a Traveling Man Who Has Diabetes

This morning I told my wife that I wasn’t sure what to blog about this week. She then asked me what it was I was thinking about writing on. I said self-pity. I then said, before she had time to comment on my topic of choice, that I was going to approach the self-pity part from the point of view that I rarely, if ever, engage in it when it comes to my diabetes. Instead, I was going to approach it from, well… how it is I try (and often succeed in) turning on its head my initial inclination — which I feel often — to whine or grouse about the mundane, quotidian care required for my self-management, and instead, when the desire to play the woe-is-me diabetes card strikes, to do just the opposite.


Which is?

Well, I have lots to write about regarding the feeling-sorry-for-myself (or not feeling sorry for myself) thing with my chronic illness. And, as I so often do in my blog entries, I planned to tease this topic out by beginning with my need to be pity-party planner extraordinaire, then shift directions and move on to how it is that the self-pity does nothing for me. Nothing.

But maybe next week on the self-pity? Maybe in the coming months?

Because halfway now into this week’s blog entry, I bring up Kathryn’s suggestion on what to write about: my diabetes prep for our pending vacation.

My knee-jerk response to her suggestion was that I hadn’t really planned at all for dealing with my diabetes. I hadn’t planned. Oh, sure, I always intended to deal, as I normally deal. But what I hadn’t done was give much thought to the fact that I’d be hours from home in a location I’ve never been before. And shouldn’t I do some Web searches for what’s nearby? Shouldn’t I make a list of the supplies I should throw in the suitcase, the meds I’ll take, and the means to get various items from Point A to Point B in a safe manner?

See, we’re still a few days away from leaving, and even though I’ve not sat down and made that list, well… do you really think I’d go off on a week’s vacation to a cabin in a forest on the other side of the state and not plan for the diabetic contingencies?

As much as I’d like to escape the disease while en vacance, the responsible, adult me will no doubt give over some time in the next few days to thinking about all it is I need to bring along for the regular day-to-day, as well as what I should have on hand in case one of those unforseens were to happen. Maybe I do have a slight case of diabetic myopia because last year we flew to Antigua in the West Indies for a week’s vacation. That was a case not of overprep, but of highly aware prep for travel with diabetes.

This year, however, I’m slightly more cool (at least when it comes to packing the insulin). I believe this is a good thing. And thus, driving three hours west for a week doesn’t seem too anxiety producing.

Any stories out there from you guys about failing to plan adequately for travel? Any anecdotes of “this got me and I totally didn’t see it coming” or “this happened, and you, Eric, should learn from my rather humbling and not-so-smart experience”? Do I need to be more aware of the pitfalls of hubris when it comes to diabetes travel prep?

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  • John

    I have made a couple of trips to Germany where I misplaced items and had to replace them. On one trip, I made sure that I had two meters with me, but I packed both of them in the same carry bag. Within the first 48 hours, I took a taxi ride and managed to leave both of them in the taxi. Moral of the story: bring two meters, but keep them in different places in your luggage. (In my case, I went to an apothecary, and was able to explain to them in German what I needed. They sold me a meter, strips, etc. for less than what I would have paid in the US.)

    On another trip, I stayed in Stuttgart for four days, then took the train to Munich. In Munich, as I was getting ready to change the infusion set for my pump, I could not find either of the two bottles of insulin I brought, and thought I had left it in Stuttgart. I was staying in a bed-and-breakfast, and got help from the owner in locating a physician, getting an appointment, finding an apothecary, and purchasing the insulin. (Doctor’s appointment cost me $15 without insurance, insulin was about $50 a bottle). When I got back to the bed-and-breakfast, with bottles of insulin in hand, I looked in the fridge and discovered the bottles of insulin that I thought I had left in Stuttgart. Moral here, again–split the insulin up and keep in different places.

  • Jan Chait

    I once got halfway to Kansas (from Indiana) and discovered I had forgotten my insulin. I had enough in my insulin pump to cover my basal, but not enough to eat anything. Fortunately, my pharmacy is part of a national chain and I stopped at one along the way and bought a bottle of rapid-acting insulin. My plan if I hadn’t been able to do that was to buy a bottle of Regular, which does not require a prescription. Have a great vacation!


  • Sarah J

    Several times I have had to find a local pharmacy for test strips, a new monitor! (so glad One Touch makes those tiny ones that only cost about 20 dollars) and emergency insulin. Even traveling the hour trip to my parent’s I sometimes forget to pack enough insulin and have to stop at a pharmacy in my hometown. I am notorious for forgetting these things. As I get older, I get better. I’ve had type 1 since I was 11 and since I was about 13 my parents made me responsible for remembering what to bring and how much to bring of it. I am finally understanding that not only do I need to bring enough, but I need to bring extra. I pack my supplies in my car where I can see them, usually on the floorboard of my passenger side, then I can look down and know that I remembered the plastic box filled with supplies (and ice packs for the insulin!) without having to stop and check in my trunk. Makes the travel anxieity go away! (at least pertaining to diabetes). plus, I no longer worry if I have enough money to cover an emergency script.

  • Rita

    I am afraid to travel now, since I am on the pump.
    Last year I decided to take a bus trip to Gatlinburg, TN from Memphis. My blood sugar stayed in the high 200’s the whole week-end. My blood sugar did not come down until we were coming out of Nashville, TN. Do anyone think high altitudes has something to do with it? I ate the right foods, walk all day, I had plenty of water, and changed my pump out.

  • Aaron

    I’ve done many a short week or weekend trip not too far from home, and things have usually gone fine. Always bring more supplies (infusion sets, cartridges, insulin bottles, lancets) than you think you’ll need. Lots more. All are very small, light items, and the security of knowing you have an extra large stash is very reassuring.

    Bad things that have happened to me?. . .hmm, lets see. . .
    One time when I was about 8 I was visiting my grandparents about a 5 hours drive from home and I managed to knock my only bottle of regular off of a dresser onto a carpeted floor, and the insulin bottle somehow managed to shatter (how, I do not understand. . I’ve dropped them on hardwood and linoleum on various occasions but never had any others break). So, since it was my only bottle, we had to go up to the local pharmacy and buy more regular. Once or twice I’ve been caught at my parents house without insulin and driven an hour back home to get some. I try to always keep some in their fridge, but sometimes I forget to replace it after I’ve used it all up. . .same goes for the work fridge.

    If you have a couple of syringes laying around, it wouldn’t hurt to bring them along just in case you have a total pump failure so that you won’t have to buy them over the counter. I still have plenty if you’d like to have a couple. Heck, I think I’ve got one in my desk drawer.

    This one time, at church camp, I handed my diabetic kit over to the nurse, with the instructions that my insulin needed to be refrigerated. Later in the day I came back to the nurses station to check my blood sugar, only to discover that she had put all of my supplies into the fridge, meter included, so I had to wait for the battery to warm up before I could check my blood. I’m lucky the meter didn’t break!

    When I lived in New Zealand, my house was broken into, and among the things stolen was my blood meter and all my syringes ūüôĀ My mother located a medical supply store in Auckland, and we were able to get new supplies. I suspect she probably paid out of pocket for them, but I don’t know for sure. The new meter ranged from something like 3-20 in the unit system used in the ROW. I think something like 5.0-8.0 are good scores? This was in 1994, and I have forgotten the details.

    For int’l travel (not applicable to your upcoming trip, but for other readers, and for future reference), I tend to keep my basal rates on Michigan time and then I switch over to local immediately once I land. This has usually worked o.k. for me. In the old days when I was on injections it was worse. The conventional wisdom at the time was to keep on the short-acting dosage and skip the long-acting until you’ve landed. I’m not sure if that’s still the recommended procedure. Bret Michaels would know. He tours a lot and last I heard, he was not “cosmetically ready”, in his words, for the pump.

    Checking regularly and eating small amounts of food regularly (which is easy to do on flights and in airports) helps a lot too. I always memorize how to say “I’m diabetic” in the language of the country I’m visiting. This is often in the health section of phrase books, and is worth doing even if you don’t plan to learn much of the language beyond “Please”, “Thank You” and “Where is the. . .”

    Ensuring that your hotel room has a minifridge is usually worth your trouble if you will be staying more than a single night at a given location. . otherwise you may be able to get by with just a freezer pack.
    Can’t think of anything else at the moment,
    Hope this helps!

  • Jennifer Reid

    Hi, Eric! Good for you for going on vacation and having a little fun!

    I’ve had diabetes for less than a year myself, but I’ve already done enough short-term traveling to know how to prepare for going away.

    1. Type up a complete medical history in your word processing program on the computer, save the file, and transfer it to disk. In fact, burn several copies so you have extras to stash in different pieces of luggage. Also, just in case disks don’t work, make hard copies of the information and stash them in safe places, too. The medical history should include things like disorders you have and when they were diagnosed, names and complete contact information of all doctors you see, medications you take, your health insurance information, emergency contact, and a history listing major illnesses that run in the family. When it’s written the way you want it, put your name, address, phone numbers, e-mail, and date of birth at the top. Don’t forget to update it as key information changes.

    2. Stock up on diabetic foods and snacks that are individually wrapped, especially EXTEND bars or other foods that help keep your sugar steady. Also, for those times you eat at a restaurant on the road, take single-serving packs of salad dressing with you. Walden Farms has a terrific sugar-free line of dressings that are perfect for diabetics. Same goes for foods you can use when you need to treat hypoglycemia.

    3. Take more testing supplies than you think you’ll need for the trip.

    4. Program all doctors’ phone numbers into your cell phone. This way, you can contact them easily if you have an emergency.

    5. Learn where hospitals are in the area you’re going to be traveling. YOu can do that on the ‘Net before you leave home.

    6. Be sure you have your insurance card(s) with you when you leave home.

    Hope this helps!

  • Lisa

    I traveled to Alabama a few years ago when the pump i used needed a weird battery. I had to go to at least 3 different stores before i could find a replacement for the battery. I also had a meter break so I also have extra batteries and an extra meter when I travel. Just to let you know that you are not the only one that just wants to let people know how rotten they feel sometimes but instead just say ” I am doing fine”.

  • Pam Tshuma

    Quite an interesting topic, but I would like to know how one deals with travel to countries that have different time zones to yours. Am supposed to take my insulin at around the same time 4 times everyday, so what do I do when my country time is some hours behind, meaning I have to readjust my meal times etc. confused.

  • Mark_in_MO

    I travel a lot and have learned several basics:
    1) Take extras of everything (meters, test strips, needles, meds, etc. – this includes glucose tabs to manage emergency hypoglycemia.
    2) Document all meds (names, quantities, prescribing doctor, contact numbers, etc.) and carry the list with your meds
    3) Carry ALL medical stuff with you on planes – never check anything – if possible, split it up between you and another member of your party (spouse, etc.) so if one bag is stolen, you still have coverage. Same thing if traveling in multiple cars – split it up in case a car is stolen or simply towed for illegal parking.
    4) Plan for delays and unforseen weather (flat tires, hot weather when your A/C goes out, plane delays on runways or when diverted for a day or two; even for loss of power (with refrigerated meds) in the event of a natural disaster (like storms, flooding, etc..
    5) In foreign countrie or on cruises, check in advance to get medical response contact information and to identify your emergency contact for replacement of meds or medical supplies – Do NOT wait until you break you only bottle of insulin or have your last syringes stolen.
    6) Last, but not least, always carry some food that will carry you when you are stuck someplace – recommend something that a) does not need refrigeration and b) will not spoil when carried for an extended timeframe or in hot/cold temps. Best options are granola bars, Extend bars or something similar that will regulate your blood glucose level.

  • Aaron-Type2 Diabetic

    I have always found that if you buy in bulk, you can get good deals on everything. Having a lot of supplies around makes it easier on me, as I don’t have to run out to the store to get anything before I travel. At least the TSA lets you carry on supplies and insulin…