Planning is key to traveling with diabetes. It is important to plan in order to have a stress-free trip with type 1 diabetes.
Unexpected issues can happen, no matter how prepared you may be. My diabetic blood sugar monitor was stolen from me at the Full Moon Party in Thailand. I think they thought it was an iPhone. However, I didn’t panic because I had planned for the “emergency” beforehand.
To help you prepare, I have compiled a list of common scenarios and the best ways to handle them. These are my top tips for dealing with Type 1 Diabetes Emergencies abroad!
This is the most common reason why something could go wrong. It is because your body adjusts to new places and new food. Foreign foods can cause stomach problems, whether you are diabetic or not!
High blood sugars are more common in those with type 1 diabetes. Your body is trying to fight your infection overtime.
If you don’t watch your alcohol intake, you could be at risk for DKA. No one wants to get into DKA while on vacation! There are things you can do to help.
First, you must know your sick day rules. These rules can be forgotten or you don’t remember them. I have listed them below.
- Don’t stop taking insulin.
- Water is the best fluid to drink, as it flushes your body. To prevent dehydration, you should drink between 100 and 200 mls per hour. You can take frequent sips if you are too sick to drink water.
- You should test your blood sugars more often. You can still test your blood sugars with a finger prick even if you have a FreeStyle Libre, CGM, or other CGM.
- Always test for ketones (so don’t forget ketone sticks!) Ketones are a sign that you require more insulin to prevent DKA. Some people find that they require twice the insulin or more if they have ketones. Personaly, I need three!
- Make sure your ketone sticks stay current. Also, test every 2 hours for ketones.
Know when you should seek medical help. You will need medical attention if your blood pressure is rising and ketones are increasing.
Do not put yourself at risk. Google Translate can be used to help you explain the situation or to pay for an English doctor.
It is always a good idea for “the worst case scenario” to be written in a translation that you can hand to a doctor in an urgent situation. You can prevent most cases of DKA by taking extra care and following the sick day rules.
Ketones do not mean that you will be going to the hospital immediately, so don’t panic!
As you read this …., I can sense your panic rising. But don’t worry! Because it happened to me, I know the solution.
Always split your supplies. No matter if you’re traveling alone or with friends, it is important to always split your supplies.
Split your bag between your day bag, backpack and handbag. You can ask your partner or friends to bring some of your supplies if you’re traveling with you.
This means that your luggage will not be lost or stolen. We know the airlines! You’ll always have enough supplies. Always carry twice the supplies you require.
Many pump companies will lend you supplies in advance so you have extra to take with you. Give them a shout!
If you lose everything, it is time to find new supplies. It is best to contact your supplier if you have an insulin pump.
Ask your local post office if you can ship any additional supplies to your location. Ask a relative to ship any supplies you may have at home.
Although it may require you to wait for some time in certain areas, this will save you a lot of hassle. The third option is to contact local diabetes charities or post on local diabetic groups in that country and ask them if they have spares or if you can source supplies.
Insulin can be damaged by extreme temperatures such as heat or cold. It will become cloudy and white, which will be a sign that it has died. Insulin travel cases can be used to prevent your insulin from rotting.
My insulin has failed a few times during my travels. One of those was while I was in Rome on a city tour. It was extremely warm, so I had my insulin pump in bra.
I didn’t think my insulin might go out of control so I didn’t take any insulin along with me to explore the city. I got really sick really quickly.
The ketones resulted and I was left in a hotel room, waiting for my health to improve so that I could continue my Rome adventures. It took me a while to feel better. If I had taken insulin with me in a Frio bag, it could have prevented ketones from forming.
It’s easy to find out whether different pharmacies stock insulin or if you will need a prescription. You may not be able get insulin vials or pre-filled insulin pen, but it is possible to work with what you have.
Remember that insulin strengths can vary between countries. Before you use the same amount of an insulin, double-check your normal strength.
A U-100 insulin, for example, requires U-100 syringes. If you use this strength in U-40 or U-8 syrines, you will take too many insulin and increase your chance of hypos.
Insulin pumps are technology and they can be faulty at times. Good news is that many insulin pump companies will allow you take a “holiday” pump with you when you travel for emergency situations.
Medtronic allows this in the USA. I am certain of that. You will have to use insulin pens if you are unable to bring an additional insulin pump.
You don’t have to worry; I wrote an entire guide to switching insulin pumps to pens, to make it easier.
I hope you found this information helpful and that it will help you be prepared for anything that may come your way while traveling with type 1 diabetes.