10 Travel Tips for Type 1s from a Frequent Flier and Diabetes Expert

I've always loved traveling but since becoming a mom of 2, it's become slightly more challenging. Here, some tips to help you navigate the friendly skies. Happy travels!

 

Marina Chaparro, RD, CDE, MPH and her two young daughtersPreparing for take off with my two girls, Emma Lucia, 3 and Alicia, 10 months old. In July we traveled to Texas on an 8 hour flight. Unfortunately it wasn't a non-stop trip!

If I could spend all my money on one thing, it would be traveling. I've always been a huge fan of exploring new places, learning about new cultures, and finding authentic local food. Yes, the eating part is my favorite! To me, there's nothing more fulfilling than discovering a delicious, authentic hole in the wall—likely recommended by taxi drivers and locals—where you can sample the local cuisine as experience a little bit of the culture as well. 

But since becoming a mom of 2 little girls (Emma Lucia, age 3 and Alicia, 10 months) traveling has taken on a slightly different meaning. No time to relax or stay out late exploring local establishments. Instead I'm praying my daughters don't have a meltdown during the flight and doing what I can to avoid a toxic diaper!

Nonetheless, I've made it a point to continue traveling with my family. My husband and I consider it a learning experience for our daughters. And, as the wise saying goes, "Spend your money on experiences, not things". Besides my parents and some of my siblings live far away in Texas and I'm determined to do what it takes for the girls to know their grandparents!

Any parent will tell you traveling with young children is challenging but did I mention that I also have type 1 diabetes?

Having a Type 1 Travel Mentality Helps 

The type 1 piece adds another layer of complexity but I'd never allow my diabetes to interfer with such an important adventure. Since the girls, my husband and I live outside Miama, traveling to El Paso, Texas (where my parents live) involves adjusting my insulin to incorporate the time zone change. Of course any trip disrupts routines and when you have diabetes you have to factor in the never-ending guessing game of "How many carbs is that?" Trust me; I've been there.But part of me refuses to give in to the "It's hard because I have diabetes mentality." 

Diabetes has never stopped me from doing what I love. I intentionally challenge myself by experiencing all sorts of adventures that test me and my diabetes management.Yes, it helps that I'm a diabetes educator, but even I've had my share of challenges—like the time I ran out of batteries or when my pump broke down in Mexico. The worst may have been the time my insulin vials broke during a trip. Yup, it happens! But I've never let setbacks like that interfere with the joy of traveling.

How to Manage Your Blood Sugar and Be a Jet Setter

If you're a fan of traveling but feel hesitant given all the considerations involved with blood sugar management, here are some tips I've gleaned through personal experience and lessons learned along the way. I hope they'll help you feel confident and  the next time a travel opportunity arises you'll go for it! 

#1. Know Your Enviroment
This is by far the most crucial piece of advice. Know your destination. Will it be cold/hot?  Spend some time hunting down local pharmacies so you know the locations in advance. Consider if you will need to carry an ice pack to keep your insulin cool. Think about the food you'll be eating and what that could do to your blood sugar. What kind of exercise will you partake in during the trip? Will you be walking all day or relaxing by the beach? 

#2. Bring Extra Supplies, Plus More! 
The time you least expect it is the time when accidents happen. It's Murphy's Law. I always bring my 2 PDMs (personal diabetes manager) for my pump in case one breaks along with sensors and even an additional meter, even though I rarely check my blood sugars.

#3. Put Together a Diabetes Kit 
This is basic diabetes 1-0-1. Make a checklist and gather everything in a separate diabetes bag. Check out Beyond Type 1’s diabetes kit. Things to include: batteries, insulin, extra syringes or pens, alcohol, strips, CGM, low glucose supplies and glucagon.

#4. Think Worst-Case Scenario
Not to be gloomy, but this mentality helps me create a system I can rely on for when things go haywire. I develp a checklist of supplies I need if X were to happen. Always think "What's the worst that could happen" and I start coming up with scenarios so I can be prepared. My pump breaks then I will have this, or my luggage gets lost, but I will have this. I run out of batteries in the middle of the jungle, and there will be no pharmacy close to me. Again preparation is key!

#5. Always Pack Your Diabetes Necessities in a Carry-On Bag 
This is not to say you can’t check any bags, but your diabetes supplies should be with you AT ALL TIMES. You don't want to get faced with a missing bag situation and no insulin for the next week.

#6. Think Snacks, Portable Snacks! 
In my bag I stash all sorts of snacks to keep me from getting hangry or experiencing a low. Nobody wants to have a low while running to catch a connecting flight. Some of my favorite snacks include nuts, dried fruit, protein bars and portable whole fruits like apples, mandarin oranges, and blueberries.

#7. Stay Hydrated
Traveling dehydrates you. When you are dehydrated you're more prone to elevated blood sugars so be sure to carry a portable water bottle (to fill after going through security of course!). Set an alarm on your phone to remind you to refill frequently.

#8. Get to Know the Cuisine So You Can Count Your Carbs
If you are traveling abroad, carb counts and nutrition labels might be hard to read or obtain. Try to do a little research beforehand so you can make an educated guess on carbs. Try CalorieKing or download the MyFitnessPal app prior to boarding the plan. Better yet, purchase a scale to count carbs more accurately.

#9. Pack a "Low" Kit, Too
Traveling will most likely take you out of your routine. Hiking in Colorado, walking in Rome or sunbathing in St. Tropez can all cause lower blood sugars than usual. Make sure you have a low kit at hand that includes, glucose gels, tablets, extra snacks. Also, consider decreasing insulin dosages if you will be doing lots of physical activity, but be sure to talk to your diabetes team before your plane departs.

#10. Know Your Airport Security Patient Rights
Know your rights! It’s always acceptable to travel with your pump and CGM. You should not go into the body scanner or X-ray machine as the accuracy and functionality of these devices may be impacted. Instead, notify an agent and ask to go through a metal detector or have a pat-down instead  You are also permitted to carry syringes, needles, and pens. If traveling abroad, it's a good idea to bring along a letter from your doctor explaining you have diabetes.

An important lesson learned from taking multiple flights is to be flexible and resilient. Learn to go with the flow. Unfortunately, obtaining “perfect control,” is impossible—diabetes is not black and white. And I can promise you this. Just when you think you've got this diabetes thing, you will be reminded that diabetes can be unpredictable, so it’s best to anticipate and prepare for the unexpected. No doubt that traveling with diabetes requires a bit of extra planning, but it shouldn't  stop you from planning your next adventure. Fly away my friends!

Updated on: September 4, 2019
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