Traveling with Type 2 Diabetes

Jackie Smith Health Guide
  • For months some girlfriends and I have exchanged emailed suggestions of grand adventures which we hoped to take “one day.” Among those adventures suggested: a cooking class in Tuscany, a trip to see the whales along the California coast, fossil hunting in Montana, restoring a Buddhist temple in Tibet. No suggestion was belittled. None were considered too small or too impossible. The only qualifications were that it had to be somewhere that at least one of us hadn’t been to before and it had to be entirely different than home. It had to look different, sound different, smell different. The possibilities were endless.

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    The adventure selected: a trip to Dublin, Ireland over St. Patrick’s Day.

    With my wanderlust about to be whetted, I planned for my first trip abroad.

    There are many things to consider when planning for a trip: what is the Dollar to Euro exchange rate? What kind of cell phone charger adapter do I need to get? Where is my passport? Do I really need to take 5 pairs of shoes? However, it’s also important to plan how one is going to maintain one’s diabetes care – such as medication, exercise and eating schedules.

    I did think far enough ahead to refill my medications beforehand so that there was no change I’d run out. I brought my medications, in their original bottles, blood-testing supplies and snacks in my carry-on bag.

    I’m also happy to say that I made sure to get the same amount of exercise, if not more, that I would normally have at home and I did it while wearing comfortable shoes! No blisters or swelling!

    However, I have to admit there were several things I should have done and should have thought of.  Switching time zones and the general confusion of travel did mess up my internal clocks.  I forgot to take my medication more than once.

    I also did not realize that it would be a major effort to meet my dietary needs while traveling. The Irish do amazing things with meats and dairy (the cheeses!) but it was difficult to get fresh fruits and vegetables. One way I dealt with that was to find a weekend farmer’s market in the city to get delicious apples and more, but the fruit and veggie aisle at the grocery stores were tiny and the selections were not impressive. At restaurants I had to ask questions because a “salad” isn’t necessarily going to be a plate of green leafies but something called “rocket” might be. The Irish also love sweets with their afternoon tea, so it was necessary to decline the platefuls of scones and cakes offered.

    For futures adventures, I will find out where the nearest medical facilities are, just in case, I’ll add a medical identification bracelet or necklace that shows I have diabetes and it probably couldn’t hurt to learn how to say “I have diabetes” in a few languages.  It also didn’t occur to me to get a letter from my doctor or bring the prescription listing the medications or devices I use. What would I have done if an overly zealous TSA agent hadn’t let me keep my lancets and blood glucose meter?

  • So, you live and you learn. Don’t let type 2 diabetes keep you from learning more about the beautiful world we live in.

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    Medical Care Abroad Identification cards and useful phrases in foreign languages (such as “sugar, please”) are available from the American Diabetes Association. Information on health-care providers abroad can be obtained from the International Diabetes Federation and from the following commercial organizations, which charge a fee or request a donation: The International Association for the Medical Assistance of Travelers (IAMAT: 417 Center Street, Lewiston, NY 14092; 716-754-4883), the International SOS, and Medex Assistance Corporation.

    Trip preparation checklist guidelines can be found on the website of the American Diabetes Association.


Published On: March 30, 2010