As we all know, it’s impossible to take a vacation from diabetes (hence the need for some anti-burnout tips). However, certain vacation destinations and activities are better than others, a fact that I have been thinking about a lot over the past two weeks. Why has this been on the top of my mind? Because my husband and I have been doing a home exchange with a couple from Montreal, and I’ve spent our time here splitting my time between enjoying myself and worrying about my blood sugar. (Home exchanges, should you not be aware of the concept, are exactly what they sound like: you swap homes with strangers. It’s like Air B&B, except free.)
First of all, any time I go on vacation — or travel at all — I am shocked to realize just how much my diabetes management depends on my being at home. As a freelancer, I tend to think of my schedule as erratic, and I’m constantly struggling with how to balance the many variables that come with being self-employed. But it just takes two days away from home for me to realize just how many routines I actually have, from my low-carb breakfasts to my gym habits to how much I move around during the day.
I’ve learned that certain “dream” vacations are actually nightmares for me. Sipping frosty drinks on the beach? No thanks. Spending a week in the countryside dependent on a car to get around? Good luck adjusting my basals. But on this trip to Canada — while it certainly has come with its challenges — I’ve begun to think that Quebec during the summer is a really great diabetes destination. Here’s why:
1. Bike lanes. My blood sugar is easiest to control when I get regular physical exercise, ideally things that are aerobic but not too strenuous (lest my stress hormones send my blood sugar spiking). When traveling, I usually walk a lot, which is a great help. But here in Montreal, I have a different option: biking! I’d read before we got here that Montreal is considered a biker’s paradise, and I have to agree. Not only is there a citywide bike-sharing program (called Bixi) but there are bike lanes everywhere. EVERYWHERE.
And I’m not talking about painted lines on the road that cars may or may not decide to respect (or that UPS trucks may or may not decide to use as a parking spot). I’m talking about designated bike lanes (and sometimes even paths) that are completely separate from the main road. The apartment we’re staying in is right near the Old Port of Montreal (and the people we’re swapping with lent us their bikes), so the first weekend we were here we biked about 50 kilometers — ALL ON BIKE PATHS!!! — down the Lachine canal, to a beautiful park, and back. Today we went to an architectural salvage place about 10 kilometers from the house, then to the Jean Talon market, and then home — again all on bike lanes. Last night we went out to dinner at a place about 5 kilometers away . . . and guess how we got there? Even better than biking to dinner is biking back afterwards, especially when there is a free fireworks performance going on in front of you as you ride. A post-prandial ride, plus a show? Yes, please. (And there are tons of bike lanes throughout the entire province of Quebec. Check out La Route Verte for a sense of how extensive they are.)
2. Strawberry season. Strawberries are one of my favorite foods of all time, and we happened to get here just at the beginning of strawberry season. I cannot tell you how excited this makes me. I have been eating at least one pint per day (oh, how I love fruits that are as low in carbohydrates as they are high in deliciousness), and in addition to making me extremely happy, this habit is keeping me from eating other Quebec specialties, like maple syrup, or inch-thick slices of fois gras. My vitamin C levels at the moment are through the roof.
3. Cheese. Not only is it zero-carb but I went to a fromagerie (that’s French for “store of amazing cheeses”) and saw an ad at the checkout claiming that cheese is good for you because it’s high in a number of vitamins. I love any country that tells me that brie is a health food.
4. Hikes and walks. We’ve been walking a lot in the city itself (I find city vacations to be diabetes-friendly), but we also took a trip up to Charlevoix, which is an area north of Quebec known for its artisanal food producers (think more cheese and produce, plus tasty duck products) and beautiful landscapes. We found a number of great hikes and walks, including one in Tadoussac that was a very easy (though diabetes-friendly) stroll along a pine-scented trail overlooking a fjord that ended at a, wait for it, BELUGA WHALE SANCTUARY. I’ve since decided that anything involving charismatic megafauna is by default good for my blood sugar.
5. Speaking of blood sugar, my new favorite low-blood sugar treatment: maple sugar candies. I used to love these things when I was a kid (before I had diabetes) — you know, the compressed sugar candies in the shape of a maple leaf that melt in your mouth. Needless to say I do not eat many maple syrup candies these days. But I figured that while I’m in Canada, they might be a good replacement for my Dex4 tablets and my Gu.
6. Lastly, I want to put in a plug for home exchanges themselves as a diabetes-friendly way to travel. I find breakfast to be one of the most challenging parts of traveling with diabetes, but if you’re doing a home exchange you’ve got access to a kitchen and a fridge, which means that you’ll be able to replicate your home habits while traveling. I find this to be enormously helpful in getting the day off to a good start, blood-sugar-wise. And of course, you can also cook your own lunch and dinner, which both saves you money and enables you to resort to frittatas, should the maple syrup candies prove too tempting.
In short, Montreal (and Quebec) gets a big thumbs up from me. How about you? What are some of your favorite blood-sugar-friendly vacation destinations and activities?