Traveling with Diabetes


Right now, as I type, I have a knot in my stomach. It’s a familiar feeling, often accompanied by an inability to take deep breaths, that is my body’s way of telling me that I am very stressed out.

The reason, in this particular case, is that my husband and I have decided to move back to the east coast, and are going to be leaving our lovely Oakland home in a matter of weeks. Before we settle in, we’re going to be going on a big trip — stay tuned to the blog for details — that’s going to include some pretty diabetically unfriendly places. Like Latvia, for example. Or Russia.

I had my last appointment with my San Francisco endocrinologist this morning, and instead of discussing basal rates or boluses, we focused mostly on a checklist of prescriptions for me to take with me while abroad, just in case my supplies get lost or stolen or I find myself in a foreign country with a bottle of Humalog that’s expired. It was actually a pretty funny interaction — I’m quite worried that a Chinese-speaking pharmacist is not going to know what to make of Symlin to begin with, let alone if it’s written in my doctor’s handwriting. So as he kindly created a ridiculously long list of prescriptions for me, I kept gently prodding him to, you know, write a little clearer. (“Thank you so much!” I said, as he scrawled out a prescription for test strips. “Can you just write that a little more neatly?”)

He tried, and I now have a stack of prescriptions for any sort of diabetic calamity I might face. He also gave me some valuable travel tips, including the fact that apparently most insurance companies allow you to do a “vacation override” where you can get more than three months’ worth of prescriptions at a time (I’ll believe it when Blue Shield sends them to me), and suggested that I get a Frio, a carrying case specifically designed to keep your insulin cool. The office even provided me with five copies of a doctor’s letter stating that I have Type 1 diabetes, and that any delay in treatment could result in “serious, even life-threatening, medical problems.” Take that, Mr. Customs agent! You will allow me to receive that shipment of test strips!

I’m now moving into the real planning stages of this trip, and am very frustrated at the fact that, in addition to dealing with normal concerns like finances, plane tickets, vaccinations and the like, I have an entire litany of diabetic concerns that most world travelers don’t even need to think of. Forget the fact that I’m likely going to be in some places where most dishes include noodles — I have to pack a separate bag with enough diabetes crap (and backup diabetes crap) to last till I come home.

I’ll be posting more about my travel planning and adventures as the trip draws close, but in the meantime, I’m interested in hearing from other diabetic travelers out there. What resources did you find useful? What packing tips do you have? Did you bring all your supplies with you, or was it possible to have them shipped from home? What do you know now that you wish you’d known before?

Do tell.

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Matt M.
Matt M.
13 years ago

I traveled for a month in places that included Eastern Europe and rural Turkey. I made sure I had enough pump supplies, which definitely added up to a lot of extra crap even though I still managed to stick to the one bag rule. I also had a list of Minimed offices in the countries where I would be and I resigned myself in advance to a potential one or two day detour, if necessary in case of emergency — basically mentally preparing myself for a somewhat disrupted vacation, although in the end that didn’t happen. Oh and definitely have… Read more »

Joe Type 1
Joe Type 1
13 years ago

You should know how to survive on needles alone. If your pump fails, be able to calculate and dose using your Symlin syringes alone. If&when you get down to your last 10 syringes, consider field sterilization and re-use.

Obviously the odds of having to do this are slim – but it’s gonna suck if you can’t do the math.

13 years ago

Hi Catherine, Well done for taking the big step! We travel reasonably frequently with our type 1 daughter, and from NZ it means every big trip is at least 12 hours from away. I have found a great carry-on bag that has a waterproof shoe storage place with a separate entry and I’ve found it to be really useful when on the plane and moving from place to place.  I put those picnic ice packs in and store the insulin there (we did get questioned at one airport – Brisbane I think, who said that it was technically liquid (the… Read more »

13 years ago

Amen to all that planning and craziness.  I studied abroad for a few months and it was a mess getting everything sorted out.  I did the vacation thing and got an extra pump from Animas, took paper prescriptions of everything (note the difference between U100 insulin that we use in the US and other countries) and simply had my doctor write an uber-prescription for pump supplies and such that would last me the entire time there but insurance would only bill it as my regular one–they weren’t able to process more than one refill at a time.  I definitely, definitely… Read more »

Bob Fenton
13 years ago

I looks like you have a well thought out plan.  The frio is an excellent idea, but if you will not encounter extended hot weather, a soft side cooler with frozen gel packs will work in a pinch.  The letter is good – 5 copies, good,  if your hubby will be with you, make sure he has one in his carry-on.  Good for additional copies if needed, but you should not.  Suggest that most if not all supplies be carried in a carry-on.  Luggage may not be lost, but I never took that chance. Most airports are very courteous.  Only… Read more »

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