Travel with Type 1

Don’t let anything get between you and the wide world.

Please note that the following is not medical advise and should not be taken to override the advice of an accredited medical professional such as an endocrinologist.

You know what they say about travel. It’s nourishing for the soul. It’ll change your life, but never forget that “what can go wrong probably will go wrong.”

There is so much to consider when travelling. Itineraries, flight times, exchange rates, potential illnesses and keeping your person and belongings safe. But there’s slightly more to consider if you have Type 1 diabetes. As a Type 1 diabetic, it is often necessary to travel with the entire supply of insulin that you will require for the duration of the trip. This includes your needles, a safe container in which to store used ones, testing strips, a spare glucometer and new batteries in case the current ones die abroad.

It’s a lot to think about, and when it comes to forgetting any of these elements, the stakes are tremendously high. Whilst some of these things can be replaced overseas (insulin is readily available to buy in most countries), they can often be very expensive to replace if lost or stolen. The expense aside, language barriers alone might present a whole host of difficulties along the way. For this reason, it’s imperative that either as a parent of a person with Type 1 diabetes or as a diabetic yourself, you are thoroughly prepared for travel in light of the condition. Here are a few pointers from a guy who learnt the hard way.

  1. Keep it cool!

If flying, make sure to ask an attendant to place your insulin into the aeroplane refrigerator shortly after boarding. It’s important to make clear that it must not be placed in the freezer (not everyone is aware that freezing will destroy the insulin rendering it unsafe to use). In choosing your airline, be sure to note that some will not offer this service to passengers, like Virgin Airways.

If the airline does store it, whatever you do, don’t forget to pick it up before you leave the plane!

If you are backpacking, staying at hostels along your journey, make sure the first thing you do when you arrive is ask to have your medication stored in the staff fridge. Don’t be afraid to politely explain the importance of this.

2. Don’t put all of your eggs into one basket.

You will have heard it before, no doubt. In the context of travelling with type 1 diabetes, this means divvying up your holiday’s supply of insulin between several bags. This is particularly important if you are travelling by way of budget airways, which are notorious for losing passengers’ luggage. This way if you lose one bag, you don’t lose it all. Note that where your checked luggage is stored on the plane, sometimes temperatures drop too low for the safe storage of insulin. Just to be safe, try to keep it in your carry-on.

3. Timing is everything

Diabetes management often requires consistent treatment at regular times. For example, back at home you might ordinarily take your basal insulin at 10am each day. Where practicable, it’s best to maintain the patterns and behaviours you observe back at home. This might involve using a watch that shows both your home and local times, enabling you to maintain the same daily schedule your body is used to at home. For example, if you take your basal insulin at 10am ‘home time’, and your destination is in a timezone 8 hours ahead, then overseas you will take your insulin at 6pm. Please be aware that this is not intended to be medical advice that will substitute the advice of your medical professional. Always consult your doctor or endocrinologist before you travel and be sure to observe their advice.

Ultimately, the most important thing is that you are happy, healthy and stress-free on your travels. And with a bit of careful planning, nothing should get in your way.

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For wherever life takes you
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