Have Insulin, Will Travel

Tips for Travel with Type 1 diabetes.



I love to travel. There is such a thrill to getting to a new spot, meeting new people and doing new things.

For people with Type 1 diabetes, though, there’s one problem: we thrive on routine and insulin. A checked bag with diabetes gear that’s rerouted to Tacoma can make a trip exciting for all the wrong reasons. With ticket in hand, I can jet to wherever I want, but I can’t take a vacation from diabetes. Everybody has to plan ahead to travel by plane, but it’s best for us people with diabetes to have it down to a science.

The logistical challenges begin before I even board the plane at the security checkpoint. TSA is always looking for what’s out of the ordinary, and vials of insulin certainly fit the description. I always come prepared with a prescription that has my name and the name of the medication on it. I haven’t ever been questioned about my diabetes gear, but each airport’s TSA team is different, so you never know.

Type 1 diabetes is all about baggage, so we have a leg up on negotiating luggage over the average traveller. I don’t even think about putting my pump and insulin in a checked bag; negotiating a lost bag with the baggage claim people is hard enough without having to deal with a low at the same time. I had a friend who went to London for two weeks and didn’t get her bag back until two weeks after she returned home. It would be a nightmare to have to negotiate refilling my insulin in a foreign country, so I leave nothing to chance.

But I take that even one step further once I step aboard the plane. In the past, when I’ve travelled by plane, the hustle and bustle of finding my seat made it easy for me to forget to take my insulin and blood sugar meter out of my bag before stowing it in the overhead bin. The problem is that if we hit turbulence, I may not be able to get that bag out again. People may turn green on a rocky flight, but hitting turbulence while dealing with a bout of hypoglycemia can create new shades of the color. So now I make sure to keep the diabetes essentials with me in one of those personal items airline employees are always talking about. (I call mine a purse.)

Then there’s the snacks issue. So many times, I have run through an airport from one gate to the next, and by the time I get there I’m exhausted and I forgot to grab food on the way and my plane is boarding and I can feel my blood sugar dropping. That’s not a time I want to wait for that little snack cart to make its way down the aisle, so I try to remember to carry protein bars with me. I’m not a huge fan of them, but they are super-easy to carry and they work well in a pinch.thnkstk_178844677_woman_traveling_300px

When the landing gear goes down, that’s when the fun of the trip can start. Travel in a new land has its own unique challenges for people with diabetes (“Who knew the hotel fridge would freeze insulin?”, “If it’s 3:00 here and 6:00 at home, when do I check my BG?”), but at least an uneventful plane trip can start your trip on the right foot.

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Heather Hall just graduated with a degree in writing from Drake University in Iowa. Her work has appeared in Drake Magazine and she has served as editor for Periphery, Drake's literary magazine. Hall was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at age 9.