Just Call Me A Peripatetic Diabetic

Seeing the aurora borealis is at the top of my bucket list, and I have an idea of where I would like to go to see it: Chena Hot Springs Resort near Fairbanks, Alaska. Sometimes I daydream about soaking in a 105° rock lake that’s surrounded by ice and snow while I watch lights dance across the sky.


Maybe in a couple of years. I’ve researched prices and I think I could get by for the cost of 10 vials of insulin, 10 insulin pump infusion sets, and a couple of boxes of pramlintide (brand name Symlin) for emergencies. Like food. I’ve seen the price of food in Alaska in the summer and shudder to think what it is in the winter.

Of all the things to dislike about having diabetes, I think cost is at the top of my list. Medicines. Supplies. Doctor’s visits. It all adds up and it definitely cuts into my travel fun.

Why do I like to travel? I just like to see and experience new things. Heck, I’m old enough that I’m trying to get rid of things; not accumulate more. When I am in my dotage, I want to sit and remember the places I’ve been, the foods I’ve eaten, and the things I’ve seen. I want to recall the blue hues of a glacier, narrow cobblestone streets lined with centuries-old buildings, hiking up a steep hill to a castle floating in the sky, going into a traditional Korean restaurant chilled to the bone on a frigid day…

On that last — back in the day, fires were lit under the floors of buildings to heat the buildings in Korea. I don’t know if the restaurant had a fire under the floor, but it was wonderfully warm. We sat on the floor around a common table and the heat radiated up my body. The chicken soup helped, too. It had a whole chicken in it. Really!

When I got diabetes, I wasn’t about to let it stop my fun. In fact, the first question I asked my first endocrinologist was “Can you get me to Korea and back OK?” I understand there was a committee figuring out how to have me adjust my insulin, this being in the days of two injections of NPH and Regular a day.

I’ve learned a lot over the years about traveling with diabetes. First of all, take more food than you think you’ll need. I ran out of snacks on that trip to South Korea, then my friends went to the wrong terminal at Kimpo airport in Seoul and I waited for them for two hours, as my blood glucose plummeted. I’ve had a one-hour nonstop flight last for nine hours, going to states I never planned to go to, with no time to get anything to eat at the terminals and no meal service on the plane (short, nonstop flight, remember).

If you’re going to a place where the currency is different, it won’t hurt you to exchange some money before you leave. It can buy you a snack, train ticket, phone card, be available for tips, etc., until you can find a place where the exchange rates are more favorable than at the airport.

Before you go, check out some recipes for popular foods of the region. What you get while there won’t be exactly the same as the recipes you’ve read, but it will be close enough to enable you to control your glucose better than if you were flying… er, eating… blind.

Pack your diabetes supplies and medicines first, when you’re not madly throwing things in a suitcase before you dash off to the airport. You can buy clothes, shoes, toiletries, and such any place. You can’t always get the things you need to take care of your diabetes.

Don’t put any of your medical supplies and medicine in checked baggage. Have you ever gotten to your destination sans luggage? I have (on two continents, so far), and it’s taken as long as one week for it to be located and delivered to me. Also, take about twice as much as you’ll need while you’re gone. It’s better to schlep some back home than to run out mid-trip. Items needed for medical reasons are not subject to the one-quart-sized plastic bag containing items that hold 3 ounces or less each. I put my stuff in a gallon-sized plastic bag (or two) and have never had a problem.

Have fun on your trips. I wish I were going with you, wherever you’re traveling. Because of my injury, it’s weekenders within driving distance for me this year. But I always have my memories.

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  • Vie

    I am so glad to hear that you are one of us that is not sitting home waiting for another diabetic complication to hit.
    I was laid off of work in 08, so I have months to think about what to do. I have decided to look for work part time. Save what I can to take trips. I am 66 and need to see other countries, Like you I want some memories of other countries etc. I have traveled with in the USA and Hawaii. it is a hassle sometimes. making sure you have enough with you and $$$ in case.
    I have found that people are really nice and If you tell them the problem they bend over backwards to help.
    I figure if I live long enough to remember the past I really don’t want to know where I am lol

  • Ann

    Hi Jan,

    I see you are a fan of June Bierrman annd Barbara Toohey, who wrote about travelling with diabetes long before people were encouraged to do their own problem-solving. (For those unfamiliar with June and Barbara’s classic books about life with diabetes, one of their early books was entitled “The Peripatetic Diabetic.”)

    I am writing this in Heathrow Airport, while waiting for my flight to return to the States. I did not see the Aurora Borealis on this trip, but did see the midnight sun in northern Norway, far above the Arctic Circle. No major diabetes incidents on this trip — except having to explain an insulin pump to a very polite Norwegian Security agent who knew it was OK, but was just curious and asked several questions.

    But it was easy because I DID have all my supplies in my carry-on. My luggage was misplaced for a day on my outbound trip. The worst of it was not having clean clothes. It would have been much worse without meds, meters, and pump supplies.

  • Jacqueline

    OH, MY! My story is that my elderly and almost invalid husband who died soon thereafter, and I were traveling from Central Florida to near Savannaha, GA to see a just returned soldier who had finished his second term in Iraq and his mother, our daughter who had traveled from Texas. (Our daughter’s husband was also Diabetic.)

    I had been diagnosed years ago as Diabetic, told to watch my sugar intake and that was about all other than sticking my finger until it was black and blue and sore, got an HbA1C test about every 6 months – and that was all the instruction I had.
    As I recall, my blood sugar was never over 140 that I know about.

    We left home thinking we would get our favorite breakfast place, a wonderful Hardy’s biscuit with egg, bacon and cheese and a great cup of coffee before proceeding on our 6 hour drive. WELL! The restaruant was closed!!! So, I drove on hoping to find something along the way. Ever try to stop along the way in an area where there were hardly any off-ramps? Or, hardly any billboards advertising food? And all the foods we had started out with were soon consumed.

    We arrived at our destination at supper time without hardly anything to eat or drink. NO ONE at our point of arrival was ready to eat so it was another almost 3 hours before we went to find a place to eat and then it was more of a bar with that type food than a restaurant. I got what I thought was the best possible food for me – Black Beans and Rice – only! I ate the Beans and pushed the rice around on the plate for a while.

    Went to bed, slept the best I had slept in a long, long time. Got up expecting to go to breakfast. It was 11:30 before any mention was made to find food again was mentioned. When we arrived at a “restaurant/bar” again, it was too late for breakfast food, and everything else made me sick to think about it. By that time, I was getting a little funny feeling all over and did not want anything to eat and did not order anything thinking maybe somebody would realize I needed REAL food.

    It was necessary to hurry to Jacksonville for my daughter and her husband to fly back to Texas. After leaving them at the air port, rather than taking the interstate like we had taken on the way up, I decided to try a state road that had a reputation of being good to travel on. We looked and looked for a place to eat, anywhere to eat, anything to eat! After several miles, we saw a sign for a BarB-Q place and nearly shouted. Upon arrival – the place had just burned down!!!

    On the road again, we finally found a sandwich shop so I ate a Tuna sub and had a non-sweet drink.

    After several miles, I became so tired, I told my husband I needed to stop for a nap and pulled over in a wide spot off the side of the road. He got the Schnauzer out of the back seat and off they went for a few steps before getting back in the car. I was a bit angry that I had not been allowed to sleep “JUST A LITTLE BIT!” Off I took again driving down the road. Very shortly and evidently, I “passed out”!

    Someone other than me drove that car for about 30 miles. I faintly heard a car horn blow and the Schnauzer’s toenails scratching on the leather of the back seat. I had drifted from the outer lane to the inside lane and saw the front end of my car tipping over the side of the road – headed for a ditch that was about 4 to 5 feet deep.

    I have to give the Almighty credit for keeping us from getting killed. Had I gone into the ditch and my husband had been cut anywhere, he would have bled to death before help could arrive!! Our Schnauzer would have been hurt or killed too.

    Traffic was fairly heavy but recognized the trouble I was in and allowed me to pull my vehicle back to the outer lane and I continued on home, a distance of about 10 miles.

    Now, did I call the doctor about my problem? Yes, but was given an appointment for February ’09 with blood work scheduled for the prior month. It is now July and I had to see the doctor for an emergent problem and just mentioned that I had had a problem and asked for a consult with a Diabetic Educator. (And that is another story that did not turn out well either.) I am having to literally dig information from wherever I can. I have had a few more episodes of tiredness, weakness, sleepiness and just plain not feeling well and having to hold on to the walls to get from one room to another.

    Could it be that I am HYPOGLYCEMIC??? I think I need to know for sure. I have been “self treating” myself with that thought in mind. Too many elderly people who live nearby depend on me for their health needs for something to happen to me.

    So, this story is more than about me!
    Thank you kindly for allowing me to tell “my story” and I do hope it helps someone else who may be having the same kinds of problems to recognize a problem does exist and to find the right kind of help.

    Me, I am going to seek out an Endocrinologist who can also help me with a THYROID problem – which I just learned may also be a component, as well.