Traveling with Diabetes

Gretchen Becker Health Guide
  • I recently returned from a vacation trip to Santa Fe, where I had a chance to finally meet fellow HealthCentral blogger David Mendosa. Mendosa is as charming as he is erudite and joined our group in a pueblo visit, where another visitor called him "skinny." Quite an accomplishment for a formerly overweight type 2!


    Traveling with diabetes is certainly more difficult than traveling without diabetes, but with a little practice it's not terribly inconvenient, at least for a type 2 taking a short trip in America. A long trip to a tropical country if you were using both basal and bolus insulin would be more complex.

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    Security. The first challenge in today's world is figuring out how to deal with security if you're traveling by airplane, which I was. You're not supposed to carry liquids or gels on the plane.


    I use a basal insulin, which I keep cool in a Frio gel pack, and I didn't want to put it with my checked luggage, so I followed instructions and put both the insulin vial and the Frio cooling pouch into a clear plastic bag, which I put into the "dishpan" for scanning along with my purse and shoes. Just to be sure, I included the instructions for the Frio pouch in case someone didn't know what it was, as well as a prescription for another insulin to prove that I really have diabetes.


    No one at either airport seemed very interested in the insulin or the Frio pouch. But of course, security personnel at different airports may react differently.


    They did pat me down, claiming it was a random check. Or maybe I just look like the suspicious type.


    When I checked my other bags, I asked if I could take food on the plane and was told yes, so I just put the snacks I had brought into my carry-on bag. It occurred to me later that maybe they meant I could bring food I bought after going through security onto the plane. But it was a "don't ask, don't tell" situation, and I had no problem with the food on the way out.


    One traveling companion asked security if she could take an unopened yogurt on the plane, and they said no, so she had to eat it before she went through the checks.


    Coming back, I wasn't patted down, but they searched my carry-on bag. "This is like a treasure hunt," the woman said, feeling through the bag. When she found my "doggy box [see later]," she asked, "What's this?" I said it was a roll (for a traveling companion) and a cucumber. "So it is," she said, and she didn't seem concerned.


    However, as personnel obviously differ in their interpretations of the regulations, you shouldn't try to bring any food on the plane that you're not prepared to either discard or eat before you go through security.


    Food. I'm on a lowish-carb diet, and dealing with restaurants is always a problem. But with some practice, it becomes a lot easier. The plane snacks were all carby. Even the peanuts were coated in maltodextrin and starch. But as I'd brought something for myself, this wasn't a problem, and even without a snack, I wouldn't have starved to death during the 3-hour and 2-hour flights.


    Breakfast at our motel was free. Again, it was mostly carbs, with cereal, waffles, fruit juice, and Danish pastries. But they also had little round scrambled eggs and sausage that you were supposed to put on buns to make Eggs McMuffin knockoffs. Another guest referred to the sausage as "little greaseburgers" and I agreed, so after the first morning I brought my own breakfast.


    I had brought a baggie containing my low-carb cereal: equal parts ground flax seed and wheat bran, with some stevia mixed in. The coffee the motel provided was hotter than the hot water they offered in their breakfast room, so after the first try, I mixed the cereal with hot coffee.

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    I have a plastic food container with three compartments in it, and it just fits in a little cloth bag that I can carry like a purse. When I take it to a restaurant, I can unobtrusively put some of the dinner into the "doggy box" and take it home. I find it much nicer than those little paper containers with the metal handles that used to be used only by Chinese restaurants, or those HUGE plastic containers that aren't very tight so you have to carry them upright.


    One problem I have when traveling is the size of the portions at restaurants, even when one spurns the rolls and the rice and the dessert. An occasional restaurant meal is OK, but after eating at them two or three times a day, I begin to feel stuffed all the time. Ordering two appetizers instead of one meal sometimes gives me just about the right amount of food, and it's usually more interesting food that the meat and vegetables and starch on the entrée section of the menu.


    If it's still too much, there's the doggy box option. Our motel provided both a fridge and a microwave, so reserving part of the lunch or dinner for breakfast the next day solved two problems at once.


    I hate wasting things, and it used to bother me not to clean my plate if they served potatoes or rice or something else I couldn't eat. But I've learned to simply ask them not to bring those things, and sometimes they'll even substitute a salad or some broccoli for the starches, especially when the plate looks bare without them. Even then, it's often too much, so into the doggy box it goes.


    Of course, with my failing brain, I often leave the doggy box in the motel. Or I remember to bring it to the car and then leave it there while we go for a walk, planning to get it when we come back to drive to a restaurant. Then we come across a nice restaurant on our walk and I don't have the box. Some day I'll get really, really organized, I promise.


    Gaining weight. Most people gain weight on vacations, because of all the restaurant meals and snacks, plus feeling that they're on vacation and don't need to follow rules. I weighed myself when I got home and found that I'd lost 2 pounds.


    One reason is that I'm more active on vacation. No long hours spent in front of the computer. Even when you're driving around admiring the scenery, you tend to get out and take a walk. Other days you're on your feet most of the day.


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    Another reason is the limited choice of appropriate low-carb foods at most restaurants. There's always meat and salad but not some of the foods like kefir or the two or three vegetables that I eat with a meal at home. Broccoli doesn't have a lot of calories, but it has some, and they do add up.


    The main reason I lose weight on trips, I think, is that I tend to eat from boredom rather than from hunger. When I'm traveling, I'm doing interesting things, and I eat three meals a day, and that's pretty much it. When I'm home, the temptation is always there to take a break and have a snack.


    I go into the house to make a cup of coffee and grab a few nuts, or a couple of slices of cucumber, or a piece of broccoli, or some cheese. It doesn't seem like much, but like the veggies at meals, it adds up.


    I think the solution is for me to go on a perpetual trip. Hmmm. . . I could just sell the sheep, sell the house, and spend the rest of my life on the road, where people would call me skinny. Wonder how many years I could survive before I ran out of money . . .


Published On: September 17, 2007