Traveling With Diabetes

Gretchen Becker Health Guide
  • I just returned from 2 weeks on a goat farm in Provence, France, and during this time, managing my diabetes was not a big problem.


    For anyone on a low-carb diet, France is a good choice for a vacation, because the French are not fat-phobic as so many Americans are. If you tell the waitpeople at a restaurant that you’re diabetic and can’t eat dessert, they’ll happily substitute a cheese plate for the dessert when you get a “menu,” which means an appetizer, main course, and dessert.


    So too, if you say no potatoes, they’ll give you more green vegetables without a fuss.


    I take a basal insulin, and I switched to pens for the trip, and kept them in a Frio case and that was no problem. I reduced the dose slightly to account for the fact that I was doing a lot of walking, and my blood glucose (BG) levels were good. Security at the airport asked if I had any liquids and I said insulin and they just said, “Insulin is OK” and didn’t insist on examining it.

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    Because I’m not insulin-dependent, just basal-insulin-using, I simply didn’t take insulin the day we were flying and the time was changing. Then the next morning I injected as usual, but according to French time. If you’re insulin-dependent, things are much more complex when you’re traveling. I’m very fortunate in that I use the insulin to reduce fasting and premeal numbers. With insulin they’re about 70 to 90, and without it they’re about 90 to 110, which some people would think is fine, but I prefer the lower numbers, which also mean that the postprandial numbers are lower. However, the higher numbers for a few days certainly won’t cause much harm.


    I find the oral drugs a bigger pain that the insulin pens, which take up only a little room. My pill cases for two weeks did take up a lot of room. I confess I didn’t do what I recommend doing in my book The First Year: Type 2 Diabetes. That is, I didn’t get a note from my doctor explaining my diabetes, or copies of all my prescriptions. None of my prescriptions are essential for life, and if my luggage had been lost, I would just have had slightly higher BG levels and maybe cholesterol levels and blood pressure for a couple of weeks, which wouldn’t be good, but it wouldn’t be life-threatening.


    I also didn’t keep the pills in their original containers. That would have taken up even more room than the pill boxes. Had I been going for a longer time or to more distant parts of the world, I would have done things differently. Two weeks in France is different from two months in Myenmar.


    We stayed in a gite, which means a little apartment with a fully furnished kitchen, so we could do our own cooking for breakfast and other meals if we wanted. The place had absolutely everything we could want . . . except toilet paper and soap. Needless to say, one of our first expeditions was to a store that carried such items.


    To my surprise, most of the dinner portions at restaurants were much larger than I remembered from previous trips to France, so I was glad I’d taken along my “doggy box,” which is a tightly sealed plastic food container that just fits into a nice cloth purse I can carry over my shoulder. Then when no one is looking, I can put half the meal into the box, as French restaurants don’t routinely offer take-home containers. Maybe the fast-food places do, and, alas, there are McDonald’s and Burger Kings in France now. But I use my doggy-box/purse in the US too, because I hate those huge Styrofoam containers that you have to hold upright or they’ll spill.


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    There were also more prepared foods in supermarkets than I remembered from previous visits, and pizza parlors were everywhere. Yet despite this, I didn’t see any fat people. Strange.


    Because our gite was in a rural area, with  very little traffic,



     we did a lot of walking and hiking. Even in towns, one walks a lot when one is a tourist. Yet despite all this, I rarely went over the recommended 10,000 steps a day (3 of the 10 days I kept track; the battery in my pedometer was dead when we arrived, so it was a few days before I found a pile of the right size), which I think is unrealistic for many of us. I think the reason is that when hiking up hills or strolling around a museum, although one is walking, one isn’t walking at a “brisk pace,” so one doesn’t get in as many steps per hour.


    However, the strenuous, but slow, walking up flight after flight of stairs to reach the top battlements in castles or up steep roads to reach churches at the top of hills did affect my BG levels, and one night I went low. I did have glucose tabs along, but not a lot, and I realized to my horror that there were no other carbs around except low-carb bread, so the next day I had no trouble persuading my friend to buy some bread and jam, which we kept on hand just in case. Or course, after that, I didn’t go low.


    The airplane food was dreadful and also carby, but I suspected it would be, so I’d brought along almonds, cheese, and several hard-boiled eggs, and that kept the wolf from the door. There was no problem getting this food through security.


    When you’re on vacation it sometimes seems as if you’re spending a lot of time eating, maybe because you are. Yet, to my delight, when I returned, I weighed myself and found I’d lost 3 pounds. Maybe I need to take more vacations.


Published On: May 30, 2013