Everyone’s diabetic journey is different, so there is no recipe for traveling with diabetes that fits one and all. However, there are some tips that I have found that work for me while traveling. These tips may work for other diabetics and their families. I am not a medical expert, just a diabetic sharing my experiences. Keep in mind that these tips are directed toward Type 2 diabetics.
Diabetes is a common ailment in the United States. Those of us suffering from Type 2 diabetes find that our bodies don’t regulate and use sugar/glucose properly. Glucose is what fuels the body. When you have Type 2 diabetes, there is too much sugar circulating in the bloodstream; thus, we must watch the amount of sugar we consume.
Watching what you eat while traveling can be challenging at any time, but when you have diabetes, and there are so many wonderful foods out there calling your name, it can be doubly so! Dieters out there can also know the feat of running through the travel food maze. The key to enjoying travel as a diabetic, and avoiding the pitfalls of the sugary temptations, is planning!
Food is just one small piece of the diabetic puzzle while traveling. Below are some of the tips that I have found to keep me on track when on a trip.
1. Share Where You Are Going With Others
Wanting to get away from it all and just be on your own? You do not want anyone calling you or bothering you. I get that. However, as a diabetic (or really for any traveler heading out), just in case something happens, it is imperative that at least one person knows how to reach you.
Things happen on trips. There are accidents, you can get sick, and even weather events can take place that are out of your control. Then there are those events that don’t have to do with you, like emergencies that happen back home when loved ones need to reach you. It is especially important that someone knows where you are during solo travel. Just in case.
Keep your doctor’s phone number and your insurance card with you. Also, make sure to write down everyone’s numbers just in case you lose your phone, because we don’t memorize them like we used to!
2. Wear An ID Showing Your Diabetic Condition
Wear a medical identification bracelet or necklace. Diabetes is listed as one of the conditions that physicians and healthcare organizations suggest wearing an ID for. While I don’t do this at home on a regular basis, I do try to when I travel.
Why? I do this because if something happens, medical personnel will know what to do. On the American Medical ID website, they state that “95 percent of emergency responders check for medical identification around the wrist/or neck.”
If you are not conscious or able to tell an emergency responder your medical history, the medical bracelet or necklace tells them everything they need in one glance. A quote from the Mayo Clinic says it all: “Medical bracelets are an excellent way to expedite treatment and avoid misdiagnosis.”
One chilling misdiagnosis that they share on the American Medical ID website is as follows: “A drop in your blood sugar can make you feel confused, distressed, and even make you pass out. Unfortunately, these same side-effects are similar to alcohol or drug intoxication.”
That is a diagnosis I do not want to be tagged with, especially in a foreign country.
Again, this is especially important when traveling alone. Even when traveling in a group or with your spouse, you are not always together, and things can happen while apart.
3. Carry Medicine With You
Make sure you have your medicine with you and that it is easily accessible. Also, it is important to bring the monitor and test strips (or whatever device you use) to test your blood sugar in case of a sugar drop or increase. At times, I have felt bad and not known what to attribute it to. When I stopped, thought about it, and tested my blood sugar level, sometimes I have found that my sugar level was low. Then the problem was easily solved by eating something.
Carrying supplies like test strips and insulin might, as Alexandra Mahoney points out in this article, “raise some eyebrows when trying to pass through airport security.” You can save yourself time by traveling with a doctor’s note that explains why you need to have these supplies with you.
4. Bring Healthy Snacks
Whether traveling by air, train, car, bus, or in a group trip, you never know for sure if you will find healthy snacks or if there will be a convenient place for healthy food. Rather than take a chance of searching in vain for something that is not filled with sugar, pack snacks to take along. We often go to agricultural events that are literally in the middle of a field, and there are not always vendors available; if there are, they don’t always have the kind of food that I should eat. Rather than eat what I shouldn’t, I tend to pack nuts or sliced apples (and packages of peanut butter to dip the apples in). I also am a fan of peanut butter and cheese crackers; the choices are endless!
5. Download A Food App
Dining out is a wonderful part of travel. It is a chance to try new foods and experience different cuisines that are not in the normal everyday lineup. This is fine, but it is important to have an idea of what you are eating. I remember eating a delicious sub sandwich only to find that I had just consumed 900 calories of my usual approximately 1200 calories per day in one quick sitting. By checking a food app, like My Fitness Pal, which is free and easy to use, I could have easily prevented that or eaten only half and not destroyed my carb count for the day.
6. Plan Time To Exercise During Your Trip
Exercise! With the internet and a smartphone, this is as easy as any exercise video in your room and getting up a few minutes early. The American Diabetes Association (ADA) recommends at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity (a brisk walk or cycling, for instance).
Even better than exercising in the room is to incorporate fun activities during your trip, like biking, hiking, or walking when there is time. It is amazing what you’ll see when walking or biking that goes unnoticed when in a vehicle. During the first ten minutes of exercise, you are burning off sugar, so it is a great way to decrease sugar in the bloodstream. For me, exercise is essential to control my AIC, so this is a must-do.
7. Bring Comfortable Shoes!
Diabetic feet require good shoes, and when you incorporate exercise, in your trip you will want comfortable shoes for that — and the rest of the trip as well. Make sure to check your feet occasionally. Diabetics don’t heal as well as nondiabetics, so it is important to ensure that blisters and sores do not become infected.
8. Stay Hydrated And Make Needed Bathroom Stops
Be hydrated. Keep water with you when possible, and drink plenty of it.
9. Harness The Power Of “No, Thank You, I’m Diabetic”
It can be a bit of a quandary when traveling and a host has gone to considerable work to prepare a dessert. It looks marvelous, and you want it but know it will wreck your sugar intake for the day or maybe days. Over time, I have learned that for me it is better to just say, “I am sorry, I am diabetic. It looks lovely, and how I wish I could.”
Because, of course, I really wish I could, especially when chocolate is involved!
10. Invest In Travel Insurance
Travel insurance is a good idea for big trips, especially when you are diabetic and health is a bit more questionable. When planning a trip, this allows you to cancel if you need to. Things happen — medical emergencies occur, medicine gets lost, and so on. Insurance is a stress reliever!
These are just a few non-medical tips to stay healthy when traveling with diabetes!