Now I don’t have Type-1 Diabetes, but I do have a younger sister with the autoimmune condition. It affects everything she does, especially travel. The best example I have is our family trip to Disneyworld in 2010.
While airports and the TSA aren’t a fun experience for anyone, it’s even worse for people who have to carry around a medical liquid and needles and get them on a plane. A finger pricking device is an absolute necessity for a diabetic, but a potential weapon in the eyes of airport security. After you’ve cleared security you have to actually be on the plane.
That’s all fine and good until it’s time for the peanuts or the finger sandwich. Individual items are very rarely given nutrition labels. This means you’re going to have to ask the flight attendant. Hopefully they have the information, but the more likely scenario is that they don’t. So now you have to guess how much insulin to dose. This could mean going high or low while trapped in flying metal container. If your flight is so long that you can go high or low, you’ll either have to give more insulin or ask the flight attendant for some apple juice, since you may not have been lucky enough to grab some past security before you boarded.
Then you land in a place (most likely) foreign to you. This means you probably won’t be staying, moving or eating in any of the same circumstances you usually do at home. You might know exactly how much to give for a peanut butter sandwich after recess, but knowing how much to give for a seafood pasta after riding a jetski around for 2 hours.
This goes on for however long you have decided to stay. The vacation is a constant guessing game between activity, adrenaline and food. Beyond that, you’re more than likely going to have to change your site (the spot where the needle for your glucose meter enters into your body). This means you’ve brought at least double of all your supplies. Hopefully something doesn’t go missing.
The more time you have to learn what activities do what to your blood sugar, the more you will be able to predict your reaction and plan for it, or push yourself higher or lower in advance. This could always backfire, though.
All of this and more has to go into just basic day to day life. It’s not necessarily something you want to be doing on your vacation. When you want to get away from it all and escape from your problems, it’s a bit unfortunate your problem is riding around in your pancreas.
I know my parents certainly struggled with this while we were on our vacation. What was supposed to be mildly relaxing for them, turned into a nightmare of no one knowing the carbohydrates in the food they made and lots of frustration. It was the very beginning of my sister’s diagnosis, so they hadn’t nailed their routine down pat and were still dealing with the emotional strain of the entire situation.
I think about this and I can’t imagine how difficult extended trips must be for anyone with Type-1 diabetes. In the case of studying abroad, I wonder how difficult it is. Melissa gave some insight on this blog about her experience in Spain. Mindy also details her account of study abroad with Type-1.
I can only hope that if and when my sister decides to go abroad, she’ll share her experience and maybe the world will be better prepared for traveling Type-1 diabetics by then.