The Traveling Diabetic — first stop: Iceland


It’s official: my husband and I have left the country for a half a year on the road. Our first stop? Iceland, home of ash-spewing volcanoes and a grand total of 300,000 people. (I thought I might have my zero off, but no, it’s true.) The good news: it’s a culture that values public hot tubs. Peter and I have been here for less than 48 hours and have already visited two. And the other good news? The national foods are Icelandic lobster and lamb — both delicious and carb-free. (I also tried a small piece of a local delicacy called hakarl — putrefied shark. It is also presumably free of carbohydrates, but it also happens to be disgusting.) Add in the excessive amount of walking that we’ve been doing and so far, this trip is great for my blood sugar.

It’s not so great, however, for my back: it turns out that packing six months’ worth of diabetes supplies requires carrying an entire separate backpack — filled with everything from insulin and a backup pump to three spare glucometers, syringes, and 7 boxes each of infusion sets and reservoirs. Here’s a photo of me in the Reykjavik airport, after we’d gotten off our red-eye flight (Iceland’s actually only four hours ahead of New York, so technically the jetlag shouldn’t be too bad — but all the flights from New York leave at night, so you automatically lose a night’s sleep).

It’s funny — the photo doesn’t make the bag look so bad. Which, in some senses, it’s not — it’s pretty amazing that that one bag (which I plan on dividing up between three bags, lest someone steal one and leave me screwed) can keep me alive for a half a year. But at the same time, I only have one other bag with me. And it’s not that much bigger. If I didn’t have diabetes, the amount of luggage I have with me would be totally reasonable and uncumbersome (and I might have had the space for more than four pairs of underwear).

So far, though, the hassle is worth it — sure, I had to spend more time on the phone with Blue Shield in the past few weeks than anyone should have to in their lifetime. But you know what? I’m in Reykjavik. This morning I saw a Minke whale. (Tonight I might have the opportunity to eat one — which sounds less appealing.) And at the hot springs, I unhooked my pump, put a cover over the insertion site, and jumped on in. Here goes.

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Bridget McNulty
12 years ago

You’re on the road! How exciting. I was just thinking about you this morning and wondered if you’d set off yet… From the viewpoint of a totally settled diabetic looking back on a crazy but wonderful 6 months, let me offer one line of advice:
Be careful enough to not do yourself any damage, but not so careful that you miss out on the adventure.
So excited to follow you on your travels! Bon voyage!

Becca Kantor
12 years ago

Catherine, have an amazing trip (It looks like you’re already having one)! I can’t wait to read more updates. Are you still planning to visit Estonia/Latvia?

12 years ago

Amazing post! (And I have to admit–I pack waaaaayyyy too much on my travels and I don’t have the same excuse as you! Shame on me!) Tell me something–have you had a problem finding enough suitable food as you travel around Iceland? I moved here two years ago from California, and I’m astounded at the amount of sugary and salty foods that dominate the food spectrum. The fresh fish is fantastic, but hard to come by in the rural parts. What are your secrets to eating healthy here?

S. García
S. García
12 years ago

Catherine, so funny adventure.
I was once screwed in Madrid Atocha Train Station as a backpacker, and believe me, not funny looking for insulin, syringes, meter in a taxi. Everybody requieres a prescription to sell that. BAD. Therefore not proud but with Euros in my hand and the Pharmacy person settled that it was better to provide me witn insulin rather inconsious in their floor, hahaha.
Good jorney

Elizabeth Snouffer
12 years ago

Catherine:  What a GREAT adventure!  I’ll be reading your posts, and making notes.  I lived and worked in Europe with diabetes for years (Amsterdam, Paris, London, Rome)  – so let me know if you need any contacts.  I’m now in Hong Kong.  Are you coming this way too?  Elizabeth @ diabetes 24-7

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