How to Travel Smoothly and Safely with Diabetes

Traveling plus diabetes can equal…a lot of chaos. At least, it does for me when I don’t take the time to properly prepare for a trip.

I’ve got some tricks up my sleeve when it comes to traveling with diabetes…

However, I’m happy to say that my most recent trip to New Orleans was remarkably mayhem-free, thanks to the steps I took in the couple of weeks leading up to the trip (all that covid nonsense aside). In fact, it went so smoothly for me that I decided now would be a great time to document what I did that helped me travel with minimal stress but maximum organization, before I forget everything I did! So here’s what worked for me:

  1. Making a list. Roughly two weeks prior to my trip, I physically wrote out a list of every single item – related and unrelated to my diabetes – that I’d need to pack for my trip. As I packed little by little in that span of time, I checked off items when I added them to my suitcase. It was satisfying to see the number of items dwindle so that by the morning of my trip, I only had a few things left to pack and I wasn’t worried about forgetting anything major.
  2. Having extra snacks on hand. A few days before my trip, I went to the grocery store and bought snacks. Like, a bunch of them. A few boxes of granola bars, some fruit snacks, things that were generally easy to transport and wouldn’t melt in any condition. This ensured that I would have food on hand at all times for any scenario, whether it be a low blood sugar or simply staving off hunger.
  3. Optimizing organization. One of my favorite “tricks” when it comes to packing is utilizing storage cubes! Some people might find them totally unnecessary, but for me, they equate instant organization. When they’re filled completely, they become little rectangles with handles attached to them, so packing my suitcase with the filled cubes is almost like planning a game of Tetris – except it’s even more satisfying because I know I’m doing myself a favor by sorting clothing items away from medical supplies, and keeping things like charging cables separate from my toiletries.
  4. Storing insulin properly. The last thing that I pack for any trip is my insulin. It’s literally the final thing I slip into my backpack before locking up my house. This is to help keep it cold for as long as possible, but then to also prolong the cold temperature of my insulin storage pouch. It does a pretty good job of keeping insulin cool, but on a longer travel day where I’m logging a couple hours of ground transportation, a couple hours of airport waiting, and a few more hours of actually air time, it does lose some of its effectiveness as the ice packs slowly melt. So I like doing what I can to keep the ice packs as cold as possible for as long as possible.
  5. Wandering the airport to keep blood sugar at bay. This might be the one element of my last trip that I would’ve liked to change, because I didn’t have as much time as I would’ve liked to pace around the airport before boarding my flights. I have used this strategy effectively in the past, though – my blood sugar and my restless body have both benefited from a few extra steps prior to a flight.
  6. Keeping all supplies within reach. Any diabetes supply, whether it was as sensitive as my insulin or as mundane as a back-up vial of test strips, stayed secure in my “personal item” – the bag that you can bring on a plane that doesn’t have to be stored in the overhead storage bin, it can actually go under the seat in front of you. For me, it’s not worth running the risk of needing any type of supply in the middle of a flight, only to be unable to reach it because it’s tucked away in storage (or worse, a checked bag that you can’t access at all). Knowing that I can get anything I might need, at any time, goes a long way in curbing my anxiety.
  7. Eating consistent meals. In my humble opinion, I actually think the options at airports are pretty decent these days and that makes it relatively easy to find an option that will work at any given mealtime. For example, I got a Starbucks breakfast sandwich the morning of my trip that helped my blood sugars stay steady, and on my trip back home I found a Caesar salad that was lighter on carbs to eat for lunch, which didn’t spike my already-slightly-high blood sugar further. I was tempted to skip those two particular meals because I was running short on time, but I’m glad I ultimately made eating a priority because I do think it made my numbers more stable.
  8. Staying hydrated. Last but certainly not least, I always have a bottle of water on hand when traveling. Always! I make it a mission to down at least one full bottle before going through security (that way I don’t have to waste it by chucking it), and then one of my first tasks post-security is to find either a water bottle refill station (most airports have these now and they’re awesome) or a store selling water bottles. It’s important to stay hydrated everyday, not just travel days, but there’s something about the stress of travel that makes me extra keen to keep drinking water. Plus, high blood sugars are already a nuisance to deal with – without water, they’d be even more insufferable and tricky to deal with when also trying to get from point A to point B!

So those are the things that I did to make this last round of travel go so well. What about you? Do you do anything special to prep for a trip that wasn’t featured on my list? Let me know in the comments!

The Low I Didn’t Feel

Do you ever feel so engrossed in a task that something (like the time) sneaks up on you, and totally disarms you and puts you in panic mode?

That’s sort of what happens when you don’t feel the symptoms of a low blood sugar. Usually, I’m lucky enough to say that I feel my low blood sugar symptoms – shakiness, sweating, dizziness – but unexpectedly, I didn’t feel them during a recent low blood sugar episode. And it nearly knocked me off my feet.

I’d been traveling all day long. I’d taken an Uber from my apartment to the airport, where I waited a couple hours to catch my flight, which was so turbulent that I nearly yakked on the tarmac. When I finally arrived to the airport and lugged my bags up to the hotel room that I was staying at, I was struck by how queasy my stomach still felt and chalked it up to after effects of the turbulence.

I figured my body was just mad at me for skipping dinner. It was already 9 at night and I didn’t really want to go back down to the crowded terminal just to get a mediocre fast-food dinner. That’s when I decided to check my blood sugar: That would determine how necessary food was for me at that point in time.

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The low I didn’t feel.

Just as I was taking my kit out of my bag, my CGM alarmed. According to it, I was low – low enough that I’d be below 55 within the next 20 minutes. “Impossible”, I thought. I feel my low symptoms coming on when I’m 80 mg/dL sometimes, so I was convinced there was something wrong with my CGM. I proceeded with the fingerstick check. The result popped up on my screen: 65. What? How? I could’ve chalked it up to a long travel day, but at that moment in time, I didn’t care about the cause. I only cared about the fact that I didn’t feel it whatsoever.

It was scary and an unpleasant surprise. As I sat down on the hotel bed and crammed M&Ms in my mouth, I felt a little confused about how I got so low (especially since I’d been eyeing my slightly-elevated blood sugar all day). But mostly I felt gratitude for my CGM. Times like these make me feel incredibly privileged to have one. I find its alarms annoying and I don’t love wearing an extra thing on my body, but its functionality makes it totally worth it.