Traveling with Diabetes

Ann Bartlett Health Guide
  • Recently, I received an email from a mother who had been alerted to an awful story about a high school teenager who had gone to Japan for a organized trip with a company called People to People. (Read the story here


    The story is frightening and I can see how many parents will pull the plug on planned trips for many teens.  But I’m in research mode on traveling and I’m using my know how to look at it from what could have been learned and prevented.


    When my brother was 19 years old he took a year off and traveled the globe.  It was in 1977.  He traveled through Iran, Iraq, India, China, Nepal and many other, shall we say, “choice destinations” along the way.  But when he hit Japan, he became very ill.  After a phone call with mom she insisted he get to a hospital.  The end of the story is he had picked up a parasite and needed hospitalization and my mother got on the phone to friends in Hawaii who picked him up and took him straight to a hospital in Hawaii.  It would be 3 weeks before he was strong enough to fly home and when he landed, my mother said she could hardly keep it together.  Her son, who had left 6 ft tall weighing about 170 lbs, got off the flight 6 ft 1inch tall and weighing a breezy 127 lbs!  My brother did not have special needs! Later in his life, he would go back to Asia for vacation and contract hepatitis, spending another 2 weeks in the hospital and a year not drinking any alcohol to help his liver recover.  His attitude and experience provided me with my own answer:  Asia is not worth the risk to my health!

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    On the other hand, Diabetes Forecast, May 2008 issue, has Leighton Rockafellow, Jr, type 1 on the cover, talking about his travels, camping, hiking around the world with his pack lists, itinerary and daily regimen for making his travels possible and safe! His travels are in third world destinations and he talks about it with open candor. To read about Leighton’s travels click here.  


    Travel is, without a doubt, the hardest to prepare for because once you leave the safety of your environment the unknown looms large!  I have always picked safer adventures because what I can’t predict is a snakebite... literally or figuratively!  My vacations are meant to be exploring, adventuring, but with a sense of security so that I can relax and really have fun!  If all I can do is worry, I’ve lost the fun in it! 


    In 1991, I was working for Reebok and some of the Kenyan runners invited me to come visit them.  I loved working with them and I loved the connection and thought long and hard about going over.  I was guaranteed secure travel through the countryside and homes to stay in.  Why not??  Then two trusted sources told me they had come home with a parasitic condition that took some time to get rid of.  Another friend of ours traveled with her husband and 11 year old son who had to be flown from the bush country to Nairobi after he got so ill and dehydrated.  While each said the country was beautiful and the wildlife incredible, the thought that I would pick up something was just not vacation material to me!  There are so many opportunities that don’t have to threaten your wellbeing, I strongly suggest starting with those and work to find your edge.  Edge in yoga means going into a posture as deeply as possible without loosing your balance.  I often refer to finding my edge in other areas of my life because it reminds me to create sensible boundaries. 


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    What Leighton Rockafellow does may not interest me at this time in my life, but I love reading about how he has found his edge and it offers inspiration and the mechanics to figuring out how to “live with diabetes”. 


    Ultimately, what happened to Tyler Hill in Japan is an example of trusting a system to do the work.  When I talked to my mother about it she said, “Absolutely no way would you have gone!” My mother saw what Asia had done to one healthy child and her concerns were based on experience and that’s hard to push past.  I believe that you can’t rely on organized systems for travel.  You must travel with your own emergency itinerary to protect yourself.  Additionally, if you have done your own homework  and are traveling with a group, hopefully there are two systems in place to guarantee a successful and fulfilling trip! 


Published On: June 25, 2008