Preparing for a Vacation with a Child with Type 1 Diabetes

Beth McNamara Health Guide
  • Our family just got back from our first big vacation since my thirteen-year-old son was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes last New Year's Eve. Although our trip went fairly smoothly, it did not go without a hitch, causing me to appreciate even more how being prepared is a must when you travel with a diabetic child, and that hang-ups can occur when you least expect them to. We also found out that there truly is some good that can come with the bad.

    Our family headed from the Washington, DC area to Florida last week in order to pay homage to that very large mouse who resides in Orlando. We then spent time unwinding in the Gulf Coast surf recovering from the ultra-orchestrated Mouse-Mania.  

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    When we left for our trip, we were armed to the hilt with duplicates and sometimes triplicates of every piece of diabetes paraphernalia we own. We had one small, very portable D-bag with the bare essentials for my son to carry (glucose monitor, pen case, glucose tabs) and then a much larger "D-bag" with everything else.  I, his mother and our family's designated pack mule, lugged the bigger back-up bag stuffed with the just in-case supplies and duplicate and triplicates.

    To prepare for travel, my husband and I read as much as we possibly could, researching various sites as well as talking to our diabetes management team. We traveled by airplane, and were ready for potential issues we may have had with TSA. My husband reviewed information from the Children With Diabetes site for background. In addition, I secured a travel letter from my endocrinologist, which was recommended in an earlier post by Dr. Fran Cogen. Yet no security related issues occurred.

    The only real problem we had when flying was a dose of wounded teenage pride. During our flight to Florida, USAir, for whatever reason, split up our family's five reserved and adjacent seats into one double and three single seats. My husband agreed to sit with my seven year-old, with myself and my 10- and 13-year-old sons each getting our own seats. My older sons had window seats with magnificent views, and were thrilled to be by themselves. So was I, even if my view was of the plane's internal wall.

    Yet I then made the fateful decision to alert the flight attendant, simply as a cautionary "heads up," that my adolescent son was a Type 1 and was sitting solo. Before I could stop her, the well-meaning attendant took immediate action, and began a large dance of dosey-do, jockeying the seat assignments of other passengers so that my son could sit next to me. Few things have ripped my heart out more than watching him trudge up the plane's aisle, crushed for having to give up his independence and alone time because of his diabetes and what he saw as the conniving actions of an overprotective mother. His frustration was soothed a little when I confided that I really did not want to sit by him at all, and that I too was looking forward to time by myself to read my book and that the attendant only was doing what she felt was best. Not much of a consolation prize, but it was something.

  • Some of our pitfalls occurred when we all actually - temporarily - forgot about my son's condition. When he asked if he could sit in the hotel's hot tub, I said, "Sure! Have fun!" and didn't think twice about it until he came back fifteen minutes later, eyes glazed and dilated and saying wildly, "I'm low!" And boy was he! We had the same thing happen after he spent ninety minutes straight boogie boarding in the warm Gulf surf right before lunch.

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    Keeping schedule while on vacation proved incredibly tough for us too. During our stint at Walt Disney World, we decided to stay an extra hour one evening in the Hollywood Studios Park, which in turn threw my son's Lantus injection schedule off by an hour since we forgot to bring the Lantus pen into the park with us. Couple this with an indulgence of a very doughy personal pizza for dinner that we had to guesstimate the carb count for, and you guessed it ... a case of being high, which then plagued him throughout the night.

    Surprisingly, we didn't lose or destroy any supplies during the entire trip. However, I almost suffered apoplexy, when, right before the take off of our return flight, my son announced that he couldn't find his D-bag supplies in order to give himself his evening dose of Lantus and was concerned that he had left it in the airport waiting area. Frazzled from barely making a connecting flight with three kids in tow, I couldn't keep my temper and screeched "What do you mean you can't find your diabetes supplies!" I knew quickly that I'd crossed a line of composure when I saw row after row of heads turn and stare back in my direction to see what the commotion was about.  Too, my son calmed me by hissing, "You stowed the back-up D-bag in the overhead bin. It has two more Lantus pens I can use." Ah, the sage words from the children of a semi-hysterical mothers. (And he did find his own D-bag later, tucked way under his seat.)

    Our silver lining? Upon advice from a local Yahoo Group I belong too for families with children with Type 1 Diabetes, we secured a Guest Assistance Card for our family to use during our time at Walt Disney World. Using our travel letter, we explained to the staff at Guest Services that our diabetic son has difficulty waiting long times, particularly around meal and snack times (which occur often for a diabetic). Our family was then granted a Guest Assistance Card for our entire stay. This card allowed us to either have shady places to wait, or at times, faster access through the longest of lines. Kudos to Disney for providing this assistance.  Oddly enough though, this card was just a meaningless piece of paper at restaurants in the Disney Parks, where it would have truly been beneficial to cut down on wait times.

    Luckily, this trip to Florida served as test-run for my son and me . We're heading back to Disney next week for the Children With Diabetes Friends For Life Conference, July 7 to 12. We hope to meet you there!

Published On: July 01, 2009