Thirty years is significant for me – it’s the length of the time I’ve shared my life with Type 2 diabetes and the number of years I’ve been a part-time international medical missionary requiring a significant amount of air travel. With both diabetes and air travel – and often both – I have learned over the years to be prepared for the unexpected.
My routine is anything but normal when I travel so I plan, plan, plan and test my blood glucose frequently to monitor my blood glucose levels. I pack twice as much medication and diabetes supplies as I think I’ll need as well as extra blood glucose meters, extra batteries, snacks and glucose tabs which don’t melt, leak, get sticky or explode in the heat. Everything goes into my carry-on bag and stays with me. I never place my diabetes medications and supplies in a checked bag for fear the bag is lost or is exposed to extreme temperatures. I also keep a medical ID on the watch band I’ll be wearing.
I’ve figured how to get through airport security a little quicker and recommend visiting the TSA website for changes or updates for traveling with medicines before any trip. I first let the TSA representative know I have diabetes. Then I place one quart-size bag with my diabetes supplies and a separate quart-size with my non-diabetes liquids on top of my carry-on bag for screening. It helps to carry a letter from my physician stating I have diabetes and listing the medication I’m carrying. When I’m traveling to foreign countries, I make sure I “Google” the diabetes translation for the country I’m visiting and print it at the top of the physician’s letter. Did you know the diabetes translation in Swahili is “kisukari”?
Traveling with others, I let them know that I have diabetes and what to do in an emergency. I give each traveler a sealed envelope with my name printed on the front which includes a copy of my physician’s letter, medical history, emergency contact information and passport copy with instruction to open only if necessary. They do the same with their medical information and we exchange envelopes keeping them in our carry-on bags. At the end of the trip, we give each other back our respective sealed envelopes.
As a medical missionary, I have served in Russia, Boznia, Serbia and Macedonia with the last 10 years focused in Tanzania, East Africa. I have dealt with insulin storage challenges with extreme temperatures ranging from minus 30° in Russia to the sweltering temperatures of sub-Saharan Africa. In the desert, I’ve learned to carry my insulin and a cold pack in a zip-lock bag, keeping them separated so the insulin doesn’t freeze. Time zone changes can also be a challenge with diabetes so I developed a plan with my doctor that works for me.
No matter how well I might plan, things happen. I’ve found it’s important to be flexible, do the best I can and enjoy the journey. Wishing you safe and happy travels.