We know that travelling can be stressful at times.  Will we make our connection? Will the hotel be nice? Have I packed everything? Where did I put my passport?  All legitimate concerns that even the most experienced travellers amongst us have on occasions.  But sometimes things get a little bit more complicated.  Like when you have an illness or condition that needs a bit of extra preparation when heading overseas!

Our Managing Director (Emma) was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in 1996 and has since travelled to far flung destinations without letting her condition make the rules.  Emma loves to travel and over the last 20 years has visited destinations such as Australia, Peru, Brazil, Romania, Kenya, Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand and Cambodia.  And that doesn’t include the ‘city breaks’.  Here she shares her experience of travelling with diabetes and her top tips on staying safe and happy!

travelling with diabetes. We Are Travel managing director in a canoe on the amazon, Brazil

Emma ‘surviving’ the Amazon in Brazil. Hypo gel securely in pocket! Just in case a peckish piranha needed a sugar hit!

Why is travelling with Diabetes an issue?

Well to be honest it isn’t. It just takes a bit of extra preparation, careful packing and a few extra conversations with airport security! When you have lived with diabetes for a long time, you get used to having to consider things that other people never need to think about.  Having access to medication and hypo treatments at all times is essential, but we’re pretty used to thinking about that every day.  But travelling can add in a few extra complications that you need to think through.  For instance, the change in time zones can affect your medication regime.  Also, your activity levels might be a lot different to normal, so the amount of insulin you need to take may change.  But as I said, as long as you spend a bit of time thinking through your plans then none of these factors should change your travel plans.

Have things ever gone wrong on your travels?

Of course.  Like the time I was hospitalised in Peru? Or when my husband accidentally froze all of my insulin on day 1 of a month long trip? Or how about when I dropped and smashed all of my insulin supplies in the middle of the French countryside?  Then there was the time that I had to argue with airport officials in Dubai about how my insulin pump couldn’t go through the x-ray machine.  Or what about the low cost airline that said I couldn’t take my hand luggage (containing all of my medication) and had to check it into the hold?  Yep – there have been a few mishaps along the way.  But nothing that I couldn’t handle and retrospectively these stories kind of add to the adventure a little bit.

travelling with diabetes. We Are Travel managing director Sydney harbour bridge climb Australia

And here I am enjoying the Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb. Diabetes was not on my mind. The fact that I needed the toilet … that was definitely on my mind!

Top Tips for travelling with diabetes

Firstly, there’s something that you should know about me … I love to plan, make lists and pull together a quick spreadsheet at every opportunity.  So you need to understand that my top tips have had to be seriously curtailed so as not to bore readers completely.  But here goes:

  1. Make a list – of all of your equipment, medication and hypo treatments.  Use this as a packing checklist (including spares) and make a note of where everything is stored. Wherever possible I do pack my ‘spares’ in a separate bag or compartment to minimise the chance of accidental damage.  Generally I will have everything with me in my hand luggage – although some spare hypo treatments and equipment are kept in the hold.  Only things that I can afford to live without go in to my main suitcase.
  2. Take photos – I always take photographs of my medications and equipment to avoid any issues with language barriers if I run into trouble.  If I get chance I also make a note of a few key words and phrases in the language of my destination.  That way I always have something to fall back on. I also carry a letter from my healthcare team which contains a list of my medications and any specific conditions of transport or storage.  Sometimes, it is easier to show an airport official a letter than it is to explain.
  3. Time-Zones – if you are only travelling a short distance then this isn’t always an issue.  But if you are going long haul then I would also advise that you speak to a Healthcare Professional.  I tend to give my Specialist Nurse a call and explain what my plans are.  We then talk through a couple of different options and I pick the one I feel most comfortable with.
  4. Test Regularly – Information is king! I always like to know how my sugar levels are behaving and sometimes it takes a bit of adjusting to understand the content of the local food that you are eating. When travelling I do tend to test more often, particularly during the flight and the first few days of my trip.  I now use a continuous blood glucose monitor which is attached to my arm, so I don’t have to do painful finger pricks any more.
  5. Rules and Regulations – Always check the airline guidelines and destination specific advice about carrying medications and medical devices.  I wear an insulin pump and generally airlines require me to inform them in advance.  Sometimes they helpfully try to give me a diabetic meal as a thoughtful gesture … but I promptly send that back and ask for the meal with the chocolate cake.
travelling with diabetes Mekong delta We Are Travel Managing Director Emma Colclough

And finally here I am exploring the Mekong Delta. You can’t tell it’s me as I was terribly busy keeping a look out for stray crocodiles! Several cases of mistaken identity (with floating sticks) later … no crocodiles showed!

Where can I get advice on travelling with diabetes?

There are so many well researched and reputable sources of information, but equally the internet is full of old wives tales, anecdotes and downright incorrect info.  I always stick to the well known sources of information from the NHS, Diabetes UK and Diabetes Research and Wellness Foundation.  Both organisations have helped me in the past with various challenges that I have faced with my condition so I would highly recommend both of them.  Your GP or Diabetes Specialist Nurse will also be happy to talk things through with you – sometimes we all need a reassuring face to go along with the advice!

Happy travelling!