To simply say living with Diabetes is a struggle would be a massive understatement, and any Type 1 Diabetic can surely relate. Things like unrelenting blood sugar fluctuation, constant carb counting, and the occasional but deadly hypoglycemic sugar drops make even simple day to day activities like eating and sleeping a challenge. Therefore, much like oil and water, something as unpredictable as traveling and Diabetes don’t mix… or at least, that’s what most people tend to believe.
To clear things up, when I say traveling, I don’t mean a 7-day luxurious holiday to the Cayman Islands. In fact, my style of traveling is something else entirely. I am referring to backpacking. For those who are not aware, backpacking is a unique form of travel where you journey across a country or continent for several weeks, months or even years at a time with nothing more than the bag on your back. In order to keep costs relatively low, I only choose developing countries such as Thailand or The Philippines that don’t typically have the best medical resources should I run into trouble at any given moment. For obvious reasons, this can present quite a challenge for any healthy individual, let alone a Type 1 Diabetic.
Whereas non-Diabetics are only forced to worry about packing matching clothes, their computer, and maybe some camera gear, Type 1 Diabetics have a whole other dimension to worry about. Among the biggest concerns is insulin, which is essentially the most important factor to keeping a Diabetic alive.
When packing for any trip, these are just a few of the extra concerns that I have no choice but to worry about in order to survive:
How much insulin will I need to bring?
Should I bring extra insulin just in case something goes wrong?
Am I bringing too much insulin?
How am I going to find the room to even fit all of this insulin in my backpack?
What will I do if I run out of insulin?
Where am I going to keep the insulin so it doesn’t get stolen?
What will I do if my insulin does get stolen?
How will you manage to keep it cool so it doesn’t get ruined in the heat?
The list of issues just seems to go on and on, and that is just regarding insulin. In fact, there are a whole other list of challenges that Type 1 Diabetics have to worry about, but I won’t bother you with the details, because now I just feel like I’m ranting.
Anyway, the gist of what I’m trying to say here is that there are a lot of things that can potentially go wrong for a Type 1 Diabetic during any backpacking adventure. However, despite the seemingly never-ending list of concerns and hypothetical dangers, at this point, I have successfully managed to travel to 36 different countries. Despite being advised by countless friends, family, and even medical professionals that backpacking is extremely dangerous for a Type 1 Diabetic, with an almost infinite number of things that could go wrong, I still decided to go. And there is not a single moment that I regret that decision.
That is not to say there weren’t some scary and potentially life-threatening moments along the way, but I managed to learn and grow from each one, becoming consistently more relentless in discovering all that I am able to accomplish despite my illness. Yes, Diabetes is a disease that needs to be carefully managed in order to avoid the potentially severe consequences, however this does not mean giving up doing what I love in order to do so, and neither do you.
When it comes to traveling for extended periods of time with a disease like Type 1 Diabetes, the most important thing is to travel smart. Here are my best tips:
1. Always keep your insulin with you at all times and never let it out of your sight.
2. Keep your medicine locked up in the hostel/hotel lockers to avoid it getting stolen.
3. Always travel with extra insulin, even if that means bringing an extra small bag in order to carry it all.
4. Switch to the Dexcom CGM (continuous glucose monitor) in order to better track and monitor your blood sugars.
5. Always carry a glucagon with you on your trips in case you have a severe hypoglycemic attack.
6. Always know where the nearest hospital or medical treatment center is in case of emergency.
7. Be sure to inform new friends and hostel workers about your condition in case you ever need assistance.
8. Never travel anywhere without emergency sugar or candy in case of a sudden and unexpected hypoglycemic attack.
9. Keep candy or orange juice near your bed while you sleep in case of a sudden and unexpected hypoglycemic attack. Depending on where you are, there might not be anywhere open to find food.
Long story short, my message to any fellow traveler desperate to explore the world but seemingly held back by the unfortunate effects of Diabetes is simply that anything is possible. I am living proof that being diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes is not a death sentence for your travel dreams. In fact, much like anything else in life, Diabetes is nothing more than another obstacle that you that you must learn to navigate and overcome. Once you finally manage to realize that, then the world becomes your oyster.