Fresh Views

Traveling with diabetes: Focus on diabetes management successes to feel your best and enjoy the trip

Coastal view in Makaiwa Bay, Kamuela, Hawaii

Traveling is an important part of our lives @A Fresh POV for you and we live for new experiences, opportunities to learn something new, and, of course, that ever spectacular fresh view!  It’s the time of year when many are on spring break, heading out for spring break, or have just returned from spring break. In fact, Deb just returned from spring break on the Big Island of Hawaii while Tami had a “stay-cation” this year. And so we thought it might be interesting and good timing to ask others living with diabetes how they incorporate travel successfully into life with diabetes.

As you read on, you will hear from two amazing women living well with type 1 diabetes for over 55 years between them! They are both diabetes advocates and volunteer for the diabetes community. Diane Bajalia is a PODS leader in Jacksonville, FL for Diabetes Sisters (for which Deb serves on the board of directors) and Fran Damian is a volunteer nurse on the medical team for Diabetes Training Camp. Both find inspiration in their volunteer commitments, but also like to take a break and do a little traveling. They shared some tried and true tips for travelling with diabetes with success.

What works well for you when you travel to stay on track with diabetes management?

Diane:

I suppose the first words of wisdom for traveling with diabetes would be to expect the unexpected and try to be as prepared as possible.  When I fly, my carry-on consists of extra CGM supplies, pump supplies, insulin pens, and a full bottle of glucose tablets, as well as protein bars and nuts. Of course, my Kindle, a toothbrush and some makeup are in there, somewhere, as well.  I also put a few glucose tablets in my pockets when I travel. This allows for quick access to treat a low blood sugar while either dashing through an airport terminal dragging a heavy carry-on bag or sitting in an airplane middle seat.

I love traveling because it is a change of scenery that involves family, friends and fun new experiences! However, what I don’t change is my relationship with my diabetes and my CGM. I have found that I feel better and enjoy my travels more if I remain engaged with my diabetes. There are so many variables that come into play when traveling with diabetes. Many of them, such as flight delays, restaurant meals, and even airport security issues, are out of my control. However, I can be as prepared as possible and continue to use my CGM to Sugar Surf my way through a vacation. I can continue to walk or workout everyday. And I can splurge with foods and drinks and enjoy myself.

Fran:

If traveling by plane, I bring low carb snacks on the plane and carry all my diabetes supplies with me. I don’t check them. I wear a pump so I bring a backup of syringes and long acting insulin in case of pump failure.

What do you try to do more of because you know it works for you?

Diane:

I know, for me, that it is easier to manage my blood sugars with smaller quantities of food at each meal. When I travel, I eat foods that I don’t usually eat so mini portions with mini boluses work best. I know that I have a better chance of an “in range” post prandial blood sugar by starting to eat at 80 and using sugar surfing techniques such as smaller frequent boluses or injections.  

I also walk or go to a gym as much as possible. The residual effects of this are twofold: I feel great and I know that my blood sugars are going to have an extra boost to stay in range that day.

Fran:  

Exercise – walk! Find a gym – hotels usually have fitness centers. If traveling for work, I always make time for the gym. My vacations are usually exercise oriented. I don’t ever think being on vacation means I can take a break from exercise.

Do you have any tips you can share with us?  

Diane:

  • Easy access to low blood sugar treatment at all times. I leave tablets in my wallet, in my pockets and by my hotel nightstand.
  • Stay calm with airport security … even if it is time consuming, humiliating and frustrating.
  • Walk as much as possible during the vacation.
  • Try new foods and drinks … while keeping an eye on the blood sugar levels.
  • Splurging in moderation is the key for me.

Fran:  

I’m fortunate my friends all know I have T1d [type 1 diabetes] and respect my need to take care of it. If they don’t understand, they usually are interested in learning. I think it’s important for travel partners to know enough to help if needed, and also to understand there aren’t many foods ” I can’t have”. Enjoy foods and beverages in moderation, exercise, and check blood glucose often, especially if trying new things.  I really love having a CGM and really appreciate it when away from home.

Do you stay with your routine or do you give yourself a pass and let go?

Diane:

I feel better if I stay with my routine. I think it is hard after 30 years to give myself a diabetes care pass because I physically don’t feel good when my sugars are too high or too low. It certainly happens, especially when traveling, but the less often it happens, the better I feel.  

When I travel, I usually wear my insulin pump. It makes life with diabetes on the road a bit easier for me. However, on my most recent spring break vacation to Mexico, I took a “pass” on my insulin pump. It sat in a drawer at home and I went MDI (multiple daily injections) . Most of the vacation was going to be spent at the pool or beach and I didn’t want to deal with it. I used a combination of Fiasp, Humalog and Tresiba to combat my tacos and tequila. And it worked! DexCom Clarity gave me a “passing” grade of an average blood sugar of 116 for the week.

Fran:  

I like to feel well, and have energy, so I don’t push the limits too much. It’s important to consider high altitudes and time zone changes as both can affect blood sugar. Check to see how your body is responding.

Do you find travel good for diabetes mental health and diabetes distress?

Diane:  

I find any type of vacation good for mental health in general. It is a break from the routines, and stresses, of daily life; it is a break from work, from laundry and cooking, and it is an opportunity to enjoy new experiences with family and friends. However, traveling is not really a break from diabetes. I have been in many situations where I have been unprepared for a low blood sugar (think top of a mountain in Spain), I have forgotten my blood glucose meter (luckily you can purchase those without a prescription), and I have forgotten a syringe to get the insulin out of the vial and into my pump (thank you to the kind Walgreens pharmacist in Milwaukee).  The exception to that is traveling to a diabetes event, a diabetes camp, or some type of workshop filled with people who also have diabetes. I have friends that live all over the US that I have met when traveling to diabetes events. Everyone understands the ins and outs of diabetes care and if you forget something, someone else has it. To me, this is the best way to reduce diabetes distress!

Fran:

Yes! Sometimes my diabetes management is even better when traveling. Having time to exercise, menus to choose from, and being away from stressful jobs and other pressure.

Any suggestions for others?

Diane:  

Don’t let diabetes stop you from going anywhere – just be prepared! And perhaps expect a little of the unknown.

5 Tips for Successful Travel with Diabetes from@aFreshPOVforYou

We thank Fran and Diane for taking the time to chat with us and share their insights with you. Here are 5 travel tips that have helped clients with diabetes that we’ve worked with over the years to have successful travel:

Tip #1: Wear a medical identification (bracelet, necklace, etc.) that says you have diabetes and notes if you take insulin. Carry a note from your doctor explaining your diabetes supplies, medicines, devices, and any allergies, along with the information for an emergency contact.

Tip #2: Carry your medical insurance card (and travel medical coverage).

Tip #3: Keep a closer check on blood glucose. New foods, increased activity, and different time zones can throw your blood glucose off, so check your blood glucose or CGM more frequently, especially before and after meals, alcohol consumption, or physical activity.

Tip #4: Crossing time zones. If you take insulin and will be crossing time zones, talk with your health­care team before your trip so they can help you plan the timing of your insulin and meals. Keep in mind that westward travel means a longer day (so possibly more insulin will be needed), and eastward travel means a shorter day (so possibly less insulin will be needed).

Tip #5: If traveling outside the US, make plans for temporary health insurance coverage if your plan is not effective outside the U.S.

We embrace focus on strengths and things that have gone well, or “Bright Spots” as our previous blog post discussed. The next time you travel, whether it’s a short weekend or a long international flight, think back to your previous travel experiences and identify what worked well for you and times when you were successful. Start your next journey with that in mind. Try to spend more time doing things that make diabetes easier to manage, while still having fun and enjoying your experience. You might want to even consider writing down your diabetes travel successes in your gratitude journal, so you can go back and recall them the next time you travel. We’d love to see your vacation photos so we can enjoy your fresh views! Please share them with us on our Instagram page

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