Travel articles written by or about people with diabetes usually make it look easy, whether they're climbing mountains, camping in the desert, or sailing around the world. Well, it wasn't that easy for me when my husband and I traveled to Mexico's Yucatán Peninsula last summer to visit our daughter, who was there for an internship.
I've had type 1 diabetes for more than 39 years, so I'm no stranger to having to stop and check my blood glucose while other travelers relax, or to packing up a bag of supplies instead of dashing out the door to shop for souvenirs. Extra batteries, snacks—you name it, I'm carrying it. Before our trip, I read up on how people with diabetes should prepare for international travel.
I made sure I had all my prescriptions, a letter from my doctor, and plenty of extra supplies, which I kept in different locations in case my purse or suitcase was lost or stolen. But I hadn't foreseen every potential problem. Our first morning in Mexico, a bottle of my insulin rolled off a counter and shattered. In nearly four decades with diabetes, that had never happened to me. It left me with one extra bottle instead of two to last me for the five-day trip. Later, we enjoyed a breakfast buffet at the hotel. I'm a veteran carb counter, but in trying new fruits and juices, I forgot to figure the carbs. My blood glucose skyrocketed so high that I even considered going to the hospital.
Two days later, my insulin pump malfunctioned during a routine site change. Then the 800 number on my pump didn't work. Fortunately, I found a working phone number on the refill package. But the operator who answered my call wasn't familiar with my problem and kept repeating the same useless advice. I was in tears by the time she agreed to get another operator on the line, who solved my problem in under a minute.
Despite these setbacks, the rest of the trip went well. I hiked, ate at restaurants, walked miles trying to find a cab, had very late dinners—and the same buffet breakfast again—all with no problems. Since getting home, I've made a few changes. I put the phone number for my pump in my cell phone; when traveling, I'll write it down and put that in my suitcase, too. I got sleeves—kind of like drink cozies—to cover my insulin bottles and protect them from breaking. Next time I travel, I'll take more care when eating new foods, even healthy ones. And I'll take along an extra pump or long-acting insulin, probably both.
Going to Mexico taught me that whether you're traveling or not, staying healthy with diabetes means handling the unforeseen. I'm so thankful that I managed well on my trip, and I'm ready to go again. When something unexpected happens, I know I'll be able to deal with it.
Jeanna Hartzog is a high school teacher and licensed social worker in Silver Creek, Miss. She and her husband, Greg, have two children, Hugh and Sarah
For more travel tips, read Tips to Trip By