Wanderlusting with Diabetes

Railay Beach, Thailand

2012 Trip to Railay Beach, Thailand

Itchy feet (not the kind you need to see a podiatrist about) is a common affliction facing those of us who get the urge to see and explore new parts of the world.  If you’re like me and looking to take a hiatus to travel abroad, you know that much goes into planning and strategic packing of essential items.  Diabetes can operate like overweight luggage that travels with you whether you have the mental space for it or not.  But as many travellers with diabetes will attest, it IS possible to get out there and globe-trot while keeping it all in check.

Despite planning ahead, expect the unexpected.  As I look back on my 1 month in Thailand last April, I recall praying that the plane ride to our stopover in Hong Kong wasn’t an indication of the trip ahead.  Of all things, I had LOST my insulin pens in the airport before boarding the plane with the extra set stored safely in my checked backpack.  Which meant I had no means of injecting insulin once I sat down in my seat.  OOPS! Yep, not my brightest moment.  Fortunately, I had my best friend sitting beside me for moral support and some exceptionally attentive flight attendants on board the 13-hour Cathay Pacific flight.  The medical kit they provided me included several scary looking syringes requiring self-assembly, which literally saved me (or avoided an early debarkation).  The rest of the trip was a breeze.

Before you go, here are some tips for optimal preparedness:

  • If you use insulin pump therapy, you’re already alleviating half the stress! Bring at least double the supply of required prescriptions over your length of travel time as pharmacies may not always be within close proximity.  Things could get lost, stolen, contaminated, damaged, heat exposed etc.  Best to research your locations and the nearby medical facilities.  Also take a portion of medications and supplies in your carry-on fanny pack (yep they’re in again) – this is pretty much tantamount to your passport.
  • In addition to travel health insurance, get a signed doctor’s note confirming you have diabetes, along with a letter outlining your list of prescriptions in the country’s official language(s).  I once had a lovely security agent dump my pen needles on the floor before identifying them as diabetes supplies, which resulted in a long line of irritable travellers (myself included).
  • More needles.  Okay, this one’s a no-brainer but if you contract anything abroad, diabetes will undoubtedly make it worse.  So best to get the proper vaccinations depending on where you’re heading.  There are some super resources out there to assist with determining which vaccines you’ll need and how far out you should get them.
  • Bring ample amounts of hand sanitizer & alcohol swabs.  Even though studies have shown alcohol solution to skew blood glucose results due to a reaction on the test strip, it’s still better than using dirty water (or nothing at all) on poked fingers.
  • Emergency snacks.  Anything in bar form would suffice here, and bring as many as you can stash in your pack.  You may not always have access to juice or allergy-specific snacks.

Happy travel planning!

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