Off Road Vacation with a Child with Type 1 Diabetes: Is it okay?

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So here’s a dilemma that I’d love some input on from other diabetes parents – going on an “off road” vacation with a young child with type 1 diabetes. 

Background: Winter looms

As the Minneapolis winter closes in, my wife and I naturally begin thinking of getting away to warmer climes, if only for a few days. After a decade of living in Canada, we know that an uninterrupted winter of short days, grey skies, and bitter cold are bad for family dynamics. Getting away somewhere sunny and warm is really nice, if possible.

Any parents with young children – ours are nine and five – knows that travel with kids can be both wonderful and challenging. Although there are exceptions, most young kids really like vacations that involve warm weather, a beach, and a heated swimming pool. We spent an entire year living in Mexico, home to some of the world’s most fantastic history, colonial architecture, and pre-Hispanic ruins, and all my kids remember are the crassly touristic beach resorts. My wife and I hated the commercialness of those places; the kids thought they were in paradise.

This year, we thought briefly of driving to a remote ranch in the Southwest, where there are no phones or internet connections. The idea would be to “get away from it all,” hike in the mountains, and ride horses. 

The Question

Should we take the risk? When is it OK to do this kind of vacation with a young T1D child?More specifically, is it irresponsible to be out of phone contact, when we have a five year old with diabetes,  on an insulin pump? To be sure, we know how to handle most diabetes emergencies, and carry syringes, Glucagon, extra insulin, and so forth with us. Until now, however, it’s always been a huge comfort while traveling to know that we can phone the doctor if necessary, quickly find a pharmacy with insulin, or even, should all else fail, reach an appropriate emergency facility. 

I’d really like some input on this from diabetes parents with more experience. When, if ever, can a diabetes parent go off the beaten track?    

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Comments (12)

  1. Celeste at

    Hi – I would say no.  Don’t take the trip.  I don’t think of myself as a conservative or overprotective mom but I wouldn’t be able to forgive myself if something happened that we couldn’t take care of and we had cut ourselves off from normal resources.  Our daughter is 16, dxd at 7.  At 15 she flew to Paris by herself, stayed with a group that had no concept of diabetes but we were comforted by the universal care you can get.  She also flew to Belgium, danced with a company for 3 weeks, without any diabetes supervision.  Again, you know that there is care available.  This year she went to Boston for 5 weeks and no diabetes supervision.  There are too many things, like allergic reactions to bites, broken bones, etc. that are out of your control.  I would wait a few more years.

  2. Kurt at

    2 months after our 10 year old was diagnosed we set off on a 3 month road trip across Australia into some desolate and isolated areas.  We had a great time and managed his diabetes well (HBA1C is 6.5). This year our eldest boy was also diagnosed at 14 again just prior to a planned vacation traveling across the desert.  The most important thing is to plan for an emergency, consult with your pediatrician and if necessary contact the local authorities to let them know. See if their is a helicopter rescue service available if something should go wrong.  In Australia we have Careflght and the Royal Flying Doctor Service.  My best advice is do a little extra planning and don’t let diabetes stop you or your children from having fun.  Travelling in a third world country is another issue.

  3. Russ at

    You are going to risk your child’s life over a vacation? No phones? My son has had Type 1 and on a pump since he was 7. He is now 21. We NEVER go anywhere there is not a decent hospital very close and we have been out of the country every year since they were very young. You cannot bring them out of ketoacidosis or a coma sometimes no matter how well prepared you may be. Glucagon is NOT glucose, it only stimulates the liver to produce. Not worth risking a life…

  4. Sarah at

    Well, until I read this, I hadn’t thought that it would be a problem. I say go for it. Just bring what you can to be prepared. I have a 7 year old with type 1, and we’ve spent many days backcountry camping in the Adirondack mountains every summer. We could get back to civilization within several or more hours by canoe in case of emergency… but there is no cell phone service there, so it might be hard to contact anyone for an emergency evacuation. So I guess there is a potential problem, but we haven’t had any issues. We bring all supplies, and we’ve been doing this since he was 2 years old (with diabetes; I also have type 1, so with two people with diabetes). Honestly, there’s no way I’d be willing to give up camping/hiking/backcountry adventures. I never considered not going. There could be an emergency even without diabetes, and well, you would just deal with it and hope for the best, but obviously there is risk everywhere. Driving the car to the canoe put-in is probably more dangerous than camping.

  5. Melisa Dailey at

    My 5 year old has had diabetes since she was 2 yrs old. We lived in New Mexico until recently and we have struggled with these issues. Yet, at the end of the day, we want her to live her life fully – not in fear. Unless your child is showing signs of being sick before you go then there is really no reason not to go. In our experience, there is never a dire situation that all of a sudden happens. Instead, there is layer upon layer on decisions and circumstances that end up causing hospitalization or the need for glucagon (we used that once and we were standing in the ER).
    I say live your life and show your child that they can, too. Living with diabetes for a few years now, there is not much the doctors can tell you over the phone that you don’t already know yourself. You are the ones who live with your child every day. If something is really going wrong you will have time to drive to an area with cell phone service. And take some Lantus. Our biggest problems are with the pump and kinked canulas. This is also a time you can impress on your child that the better she takes care of herself (as much as you can put this on a 5 year old) the more it makes these types of trips possible. Your child will love it.

  6. Jim at

    Go for it!  My son was diagnosed at 20 months of age and is now 16.  When have taken several short backpacking trips, and  he was 14 we went on a 10-day canoe trek into Quetico Park in Canada.  We were not only out of phone contact, but we were several days away from emergency evacuation.  I took extra supplies, and I made sure that I woke up a couple of times each night to check his blood sugar, and I intentionally ran his bg levels a bit higher just to be on the safe side, but it was a wonderful experience, and we are going to do it again this summer.  As a parent of a child with diabetes, I have always thought that it is my job to figure out how to allow him to live a full life despite his diabetes.  It may be taking a few years off my life due to less sleep, worry, etc., but it is worth it when I hear my son talk about the backpacking trips, canoe trips, and other adventures that we have shared. 

  7. Jim at

    One last comment.  Take immodium and zofran.  They will allow you to maintain bg levels in the case of diarrhea or vomiting. 

  8. Deanna at

    I would say live your life the way you would if your child did not have diabetes.  My son (age 5 1/2) has had diabetes for 2 years.  We want him to know that there are no limitations and that he can do whatever any other child can do.  Of course you have to be prepared and have supplies, extra supplies, and more extra supplies – and of course check their BG often.  😉  In my opinion you are not “risking their life” but rather showing them how they can live it.  I feel that avoiding trips because of the diabetes is sending the message that they aren’t able to do these things because of their illness.  What a wonderful gift you will be giving your child to show them that they can live life to the fullest. 

  9. Kathy at

    Go for it! It is great to teach you child that there are no limits and restrictions for them even with Type I diabetes.It’s the best gift to teach them. Also teach them to always be prepared for the worst and have supplies to cover any issues.  You also must be prepared for the pump no working. You can travel with a backup pump ( I have done it for my daughter many times. Never had to use it, but always happy to have it if I needed it). Most companies provided one for free. Also have all your backup supplies in case you have to go off a pump. Ask your doctor for all the information for giving insulin and adjustments with no pump. Also ask for any other prescription you might need in case you child get sick. Once you are stocked with all that stuff, go and enjoy life. You will not regret it! Type I does not restrict the way you live life, you just have to have a new normal and always have backup supplies with you to make those bumps part of the experience of life.

  10. Jeannie at

    Do it. My daughter dx at 9 is now almost 18. She has traveled internationally alone as well as spent over a week on two seperate occasions backpacking in Colorado and Montana including summiting a 14,000 foot peak in Colorado. Insulindependence is the group that she has done the back country adventures with. When your child gets a little older, I would reccomend them to you. They have a wonderful mentoring program with adults and youth with Type One where they participate in events locally for a year and then do a final event together somewhere in the country. There is a local group in Minnesota. Peter Nerothin the founder graduated from Gustavas. Good luck and look Insuindependence up. They have changed my daughters life for the better.

  11. Marla at

    Our daughter was diagnosed at age 7, just about the time my husband decided we should take up multi day white water raft trips as a family.  Very remote wilderness with no phones, no services.  We use the SPOT GPS Messengery system
    You purchase the remote and buy a subscription which allows you to request medical evacuation, pinpoints your location or allows you to relay other preprogrammed messages.  
    Remote ranch in the Southwest should be no prob and not even require the SPOT.  Confirm they have a landline phone and you know you can get a helicopter flight for life to the nearest hospital in the unlikely event of emergency.  Bring doubles or more of everything you’ll need.  Go for it!

  12. Chelle at

    I hope you took the trip and didn’t let the fear mongers make it into something it’s not. (T1D 31 years)

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