Festivals abroad: A brief guide for type1s – by Alex Jones
Every year for a weekend in August, the world invades a small Spanish town for three full days of music, dancing and…drinking. Why? Because Benicassim festival is in town, and this year I was lucky enough to attend.
Add a standard temperature of 30 degrees into the mix, as well as a language barrier to navigate through and you’ve got yourself the perfect storm of variables to truly test your Diabetes control.
For Type 1s, festivals are a tricky commodity. You’re camping out in the mud amongst a crowd that has left their responsibilities at the door. Your routine is most likely to be thrown out of sync, due to the late starts and even later nights and with the primary drink choices on most sites being alcohol based…you’ll have to remember to calculate that into the equation when it’s insulin time!
Here are the five main hurdles you need to master in order to make your foreign festival adventure a safe and happy one.
Bring enough kit with you. The most important things to remember are your monitoring equipment and insulin paraphernalia.
Although you can get access to additional hypodermic needles, lancets and blood glucose strips abroad in emergencies (after all, Diabetes is not a UK only condition), it’s a lot easier to not rely on this and bring enough of your own supply to last the whole trip, as well as plenty of extras in case of emergencies.
Experts also recommend taking with you double the amount of insulin pens you’ll need. Two to take with you and use regularly, and two to store away safely and use in case the others go missing.
Security guards at airports are well versed in the need for Diabetics to carry certain equipment with them on flights.
However there is always a small possibility this message has washed over certain individuals, which is why to save any unnecessary hassle, you should carry a note from your doctor (or diabetes nurse) stating your condition and the need for you to carry insulin and monitoring equipment onto the flight.
REMEMBER. Insulin will freeze if put into the hold of the plane. It is essential for you to store your insulin and supplies in your carry on luggage.
Getting into the festival
You’ve arrived safely to your destination and now it’s time for the fun to start! Well almost, first we need to get into the festival site, which usually means another round of security checks!
Make sure you get a member of security who speaks some English, and show them the note from your doctor (the same one used for the flight should suffice). This should ensure safe passage through.
In the highly unlikely event this doesn’t happen ask them if you can speak to a member of the first aid team (again English speaking), who will be able to support your argument.
Once you’re in, scout out the area for the first aid tent (just in case) and store away your insulin in a safe place. If you’re in accommodation, always keep two pens back there for emergencies, and if you’re camping you can hire a locker to keep them safe there. The rest of your kit needs to be kept nice and clean, so away from muddy boots, sand and whatever else may be lurking in the festival grounds!
In hot conditions, your blood sugar will drop faster than usual. Like everything else with Diabetes, how fast depends on the individual, but it will drop faster. To stay on top of this, keep yourself well hydrated and monitor your blood sugar more frequently, especially if you’re feeling overheated.
Keep a sugary snack/drink on your to replenish that blood sugar if necessary, and take regular breaks from the sun in shaded areas. You may need to alter your insulin at meal times to compensate for this, if you feel yourself going low consistently.
It’s also worth remembering that at night times, the heat will still be substantial which may call for your blood sugar to be higher than usual when going to sleep to avoid any night time hypos.
To avoid the height of the heat, many foreign festivals start later, some not kicking off until 6-7pm. This means the music won’t finish until 3-4am the next morning. Obviously, for 99% of people, this is going to be a change in your daily routine, which means you’ll have to alter the timings of your bolus (fast acting meal time) insulin injections accordingly.
Personally, I stuck to the timings for my basal (long lasting maintenance) insulin injections per-usual, as it’s almost hardwired into me now to do so, however as long as you remember to take it every day, the exact timings shouldn’t have too much of an effect…just don’t forget about them!
Which brings us onto alcohol. If you do decide to drink, remember to keep an eye on your sugar levels. Alcohol affects every individual differently, so make sure you stick to drinks you’re comfortable with and have worked out how your body reacts to them. Again sugary snacks are a must. Plus, if you have plenty to spare they’ll make you popular amongst your friends.
Whilst this was definitely the biggest test for me in terms of diabetes control yet, I would still recommend the experience to anyone! Oh, and the bands weren’t bad either! If you wanted to read about the festival from a music side of things, I’ve written another blog about that here!
Diabetes UK has a comprehensive breakdown of other festival tips definitely worth taking onboard.
I’ve also listed some more blogs below by Diabetes UK bloggers, which are filled with first time reports from Type 1 festival-goers that helped inform me for my trip
Alex Jones – @Alex_Jonze