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How to Travel the World with a Broken Down Pancreas

When I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes my parents made it clear to me that the only thing that would limit my life would be me. That yes, I had been diagnosed with a sometimes tricky, chronic illness, but that it no way had to limit my future plans.

Traveling on a camel in northern Egypt.

I grew up in a family that loved adventure, so after being diagnosed at the age of 13, I didn’t want that to end. I was blessed with a great medical team and family and friends who helped me navigate how to plan for international trips.

Over the years of speaking, I’ve often been asked travel related questions…

  • “I have a child who wants to study abroad, is this an ok thing to let them travel internationally for an extended period of time?”
  • “Heading out to the east coast for a week, do you have any tips on how to carry my insulin if I have an insulin pen?”
  • “Any tips on traveling abroad?? I'm heading out to England on Friday for 5 weeks with a Medtronic pump (a pro with traveling with the pump) and I'm a new Dexcom user! Any advice is greatly appreciated!”

Rappelling high above the trees though the jungle in Thailand.

Here are my go-to travel tips....

1. Make sure to pack the low blood sugar snacks you like. Over pack snacks because I’m always surprised at how much more activity I seem to do when I travel internationally…usually because of the walking and the outdoor excursions. I tend to have more low blood sugars then usual. Also, if you’re carrying the snacks through airport security…make sure they will pass (no liquids over 3 oz.). My go-to product is the gel packs created by a fellow T1 from a company called Level.

2. Print off the insulin pump & CGM form that explains what the device(s) are that you’re wearing and have your doctor sign it. I always tuck mine in my passport carrier so that I keep everything together. I got this form from my endocrinologist’s office. I’ve only had to use it once when I was traveling out of Tel Aviv, Israel…but I was sure happy to have it!  

My purple Frio pack that has traveled with me in several countries...

 

3. Buy a Frio pack! This keeps all your insulin cool so it won't go bad. Better yet, you don’t need a refrigerator. I’ve traveled to Thailand and Africa where I never had access to a fridge and was constantly in warmer temperatures for most of my trip. For the Frio pack you put it in a sink of water that then activates this cooling pack. I’m still amazed by this little thing! They have all different sizes (and colors!) depending if you use insulin vials, insulin pens, etc.

4. Pay the $50 or whatever it is and get the travel loaner pump and/or CGM from the medical company that you use. They will send you a back-up pump and/or CGM that you can pack with you. This gives great peace of mind! I will still bring with me a back up set of pens and long-lasting insulin, but I would always prefer to go with a pump if there is a pump breakdown. Special note: the companies that I’ve done this with usually want a 4-6 week notice so just plan ahead.

5. Write down the phone number(s) for the diabetes medical device company that you use for their international contact. This way if you have an issue with your pump, CGM, supplies, etc. you can reach out to someone more local.

6. The employer that I work for has a special international travel assistance program under my health insurance (Health Partners). If I’m traveling abroad I keep that brochure with me in the unfortunate case that I would need to be seen by a doctor, etc. The last thing you want is to come back to the states with a massive medical bill when it could've been prevented!

Swimming with stingrays on a family cruise.

7. Pack your Glucagon kit! I know we would all want to think we keep a current, up-to-date Glucagon kit…but before we travel abroad…make sure that not only you pack one, but also that the date is current on it.

I’ve traveled to Tanzania, rode on a camel up Mount Sinai in Egypt, jumped on an elephant’s neck in the Thailand forest while my little brother Will (T1 for 19 years) has walked the Great Wall of China and had a close encounter with the silverback gorilla’s in Rwanda after skydiving!

Will and I have found that diabetes does not have the power to determine the quality of our lives…and you shouldn’t let it either.

#HowDoYouDoDiabetes?

 

 

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