A long haul – by Andy Broomhead
Whilst it’s been a pretty non-stop 2015 so far, time seems to have plodded by at a fairly pedestrian pace for the most part. The familiar chorus of “I can’t believe it’s nearly August” is ringing out in my office, but I’m struggling to think back to what happened in January – it feels like an age has passed since the start of the year.
To compound matters, my holiday is on the horizon and so it feels like time has slowed to a standstill. I’m going away for two weeks, which is the longest I’ve been away in years so in between leafing through travel guides and doing some last minute things, I’ve got to set some time aside to plan for a few weeks away with diabetes.
This is by no means an exhaustive list or set of tips, but it’s what helps me plan travelling with diabetes.
There are a few things I sort out a couple of weeks before travelling. I always make sure my travel insurance is up to date and that my provider knows it needs to cover my diabetes abroad (just in case…). I get my travel insurance as part of my bank account and they’ve always been good about covering my diabetes with a few standard medical questions. Diabetes UK can offer you some assistance with insurance if you need it though.
I also make sure I’ve got a copy of an (admittedly very old) doctor’s letter explaining that I’m carrying diabetes supplies with me on the plane. I don’t think I’ve ever had to use it, but it’s reassuring to have it just in case.
Then I start thinking about what to pack and where it’s all going to go. Whilst having an insulin pump is great most of the time, you suddenly notice how much stuff you need when you’re travelling as you have to take pen backups for everything too.
I’m going to be away for 18 days so at a rate of 1 cannula every three days, that means I need six. Add in a few spares in case of malfunction or not staying applied properly, that means I’m probably taking 10 (or a full box). Whilst I’ll also try and stick to a bit of a diet, I’ll probably be going through insulin a bit quicker so I’ll need extra reservoirs – 10 of those too I think. Must also remember to take the cannula inserter too – easy to forget that.
One vial of insulin will fill three reservoirs and again, accounting for damage in transit etc, I’ll probably take three or four vials with me. Test strips next. I go through about a pot a week on average so that’s probably another three of those to pack. I should also take a few spare lancets with me….. that’s an inside joke for those that know me. I’ll also need spare batteries for my pump so I’ll take a full pack of AAA batteries with me too. I should really only need one, but being 4,500 miles from home, I’d rather be safe than sorry.
So that’s all my pump supplies – now for the back ups! I’ll need basal insulin pens to cover me in case all my insulin breaks or my pump malfunctions. My basal insulin totals are about 24u per day so a 300u pen of Levemir will last me about 12 days, but accounting for some spares, I’ll probably take three pens. I’ll also need bolus insulin cartridges (five should do it) and a pen to put them in (and the needles to fit the pen). A good tip here is to make sure any of your backup insulin is still in date – don’t go to the trouble of packing spares to find out it has all expired.
I also take tablets for cholesterol so I need to pack enough of those to last me too – ditto hayfever tablets.
So now I’ve compiled a fairly hefty list of stuff – where do I pack it all? Whilst I trust the airlines to generally take care of my bags and get them from A to B in one piece, I’m a bit more wary about putting all my eggs in one basket (so to speak). I typically pack about three quarters of the list into my checked baggage and carry a few spare cannulas, reservoirs and insulin vials in my hand luggage. It’s a little unnerving when you have to answer “yes” to the check-in question about carry sharp objects, but I’ve never had any issues so far.
There’s also the matter of having to have my pump swabbed at the security check. The first time I travelled with it, I wasn’t aware of the procedure so it threw me off a bit, but now I’m used to it. I’m quite curious as to what they actually do, but I daren’t question it.
My final tip would be to learn the phrase “I’m diabetic” (or “I have diabetes”) in the language of whichever country you’re travelling to. Whilst I guess we’re pretty lucky that most countries have a pretty good grasp of English, I don’t think it hurts to be able to say something potentially lifesaving in another language. Grab a phrasebook for some of the more popular destinations, or jump onto Google translate for those trickier languages. It also helps in the airport on the way home too!
It’s a shame we can’t leave our diabetes behind for even a short while (especially when it tries to take up so much of your baggage allowance), because we all deserve a break from it every now and again. If you’re going away this summer I hope you have a fab time!