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A Girl’s Guide to Traveling with Diabetes

Girls Guide to Traveling with Diabetes

The following guest post on traveling with diabetes was submitted by Katie Doyle.

I’m a couple years into a second decade of life with Type 1 diabetes. Since I am also becoming a more experienced traveler as time goes on, I have some packing advice to share with my girls who are determined to not let diabetes weigh them down.

You CAN reach your destination with enough stuff to keep you healthy and safe!

As HPL has preached many times before, packing is a very real struggle— regardless of the occasion. Overpacking? Over it. However, as much as I hate bringing too much stuff, nothing complicates packing for a trip quite like a chronic disease.

In particular, Type 1 diabetes comes with all of the accessories that a girl wishes she didn’t need to bring on her journey: insulin (many, many vials), syringes (suspicious?), insulin pump supplies, emergency medications, and more.

Step 1: Preparation is key

While one can hope for major improvements in the U.S. health insurance sector (soon!), I have dedicated a lot of time to subverting the obstacles health insurance seems to place between me and my supplies. My fellow Type 1-ers understand that simply acquiring enough supplies to last for your trip represents a significant portion of the battle of travel. Each time I want to leave the country, I need to request a “vacation override” from my health insurance for all of my prescriptions. This means they have to approve the medicine and deem it “necessary” for my travel.

As if insulin weren’t necessary as it is…

Anyway, I recommend making a game plan and discussing it with your doctor before contacting your insurance company. Figure out what resources (such as insulin pump technical support) are available in your destination. How much of every item will you need to last the full time you’re there? Having too much insulin may be an issue when it comes to packing, but trust me: it is never an issue when you’re a thousand miles away from your home and possibly a hundred miles from a hospital in a foreign country.

Far enough in advance, make sure you have up-to-date prescriptions that will yield enough supplies for your stay (and maybe some extra!) and get a letter from your doctor that you can present in case any TSA officers give you a hard time.

diabetes kit
Packing of your diabetes supplies is easy if you’re prepared.

Step 2: Packing – Challenging, but also key

Now that you’ve exhausted the local pharmacy of all their diabetes stock, you can attempt to put it all in your luggage. Although most of the supplies can go in a checked bag, be sure to have a couple extras in your purse or carry-on. I can tell you from personal experience that you’ll be very happy to have a backup glucose monitor and insulin pump supplies with you when you arrive in Switzerland and your luggage somehow gets left behind in Belgium.

While individual needs differ, I can give you an idea of what diabetes-related stuff I bring with me for a typical five-month trip:

  • 18 bottles of Novolog (fast-acting insulin) – *Make the local pharmacist your BFF prior to submitting the prescription for this much insulin, which will probably require him or her to call (and/or drive) around to different pharmacies to collect it all
  • Several bottles of long-acting insulin as a backup
  • 700 lancets
  • 1200 test strips (in bottles with 25 strips each)
  • 100 syringes
  • 50 insulin pump cartridges/reservoirs
  • 100 insulin pump sites
  • Glucagon and KetoStrips for emergency use
  • AA and AAA batteries for my insulin pump and blood glucose meter
  • Extra blood glucose meter (in case you drop yours into oblivion while sitting on a chairlift, as I have done)

To squeeze everything in, I recommend taking cartridges, infusion sets, lancets, et cetera out of the boxes and putting them in plastic bags. It saves tons of space! You can then stack, squish, and squeeze until your clothing, shoes, and necessities are snugly packed with your supplies.

Due in part to my supplies, I usually have to check a bag when I venture abroad. I know this makes me somewhat of a pariah in the backpacking community, but I have just learned to get over it. Only I know that I’m not lugging stilettos and LBDs in my bag, and I’m really glad I have enough supplies with me because it means I can travel for longer with less worry!

Most airlines won’t make a peep if your insulin is in a lunchbox or small freezer bag (separate from your carry-on). If they say anything about it, that’s a good time to present the letter from your doctor.

cooler bag and ice pack
A cooler bag (like this one on Amazon) and ice pack are good for keeping insulin chilled in transport.

Step 3: The Journey

After packing, the next challenge every person with Type 1 diabetes faces comes on the day of travel. Keeping all of that insulin cold can be difficult, especially with long overseas flights accompanied by long layovers. Airport security can be a pain, but I’ve found that if I get pulled aside for a pat down, I just announce that I’m wearing an insulin pump.

It’s becoming more and more familiar to TSA agents these days, thereby speeding up the process!

In these situations, I try to follow my mother’s advice and channel my stress into action. When I traveled to New Zealand, I asked the airline attendant at the desk in LAX if he could put my lunchbox of insulin and spare cold pack in the office fridge. And guess what? He did! Six-hour layover: check.

Once onboard the plane, I asked a flight attendant if she could bring me some ice after takeoff. She happily brought me a box of dry ice, into which I deposited my insulin lunchbox and spare cold pack. Boom. Thirteen-hour flight: check.

I was nervous about asking the place where I was working in New Zealand to accommodate my diabetes, but when I asked if there would be a fridge somewhere for me to put my insulin, the reply was very positive. Of course there is a refrigerator with plenty of space! Sometimes you just have to ask, and people are delighted to help you!

Final Thoughts

I thought it would be appropriate to take a page out of Brooke’s blog and say, “If I can do it, anyone can!” The more I’ve traveled, the more comfortable I’ve gotten with talking about my diabetes and making my needs known. No matter what country you’re in, it can feel awkward to tell someone you need to make sure your insulin isn’t taken out of the fridge when it gets cleaned.

As I continue to embrace it, though, the better it gets. I’m lucky that I get to have so many incredible experiences— they just involve some extra planning and room in my suitcase.

* * * * *

About the Author: Katie is a writer and videographer who chronicles her travels on Where in the World is Katie Doyle? from wherever she happens to be. A winter in France, a summer on Cape Cod, with road trips and fishing expeditions in between—she’s up for anything and will tell you the story about it later. Check out and follow @ladykatherined.

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