Going on adventures as a diabetic

minute read
January 23, 2023
Two people riding motorcycles up a mountain pass.
Note: Image for illustration only. It does not show the author of this story.

Because of old-fashioned mindsets, diabetics often fear travelling and physical activities. 20 years ago, diabetic research and facilities were lacking, and the risk was higher.

But now things have changed.

People have easy access to medical insurance. Medical facilities are available in tourist locations, even remote areas. CGM (continuous glucose monitor) technologies are available. There’s so much awareness about diabetes, and travel insurance is simple to arrange.

There’s no reason anymore to fear travelling as a diabetic – It’s time to do what you want.

Can diabetics travel?

People assume that it’s nearly impossible to travel or do sports or physical activities if you have diabetes.

But that’s not the case. Diabetics can travel and do physical activities; you just need to plan well.

I’m a keen trekker and traveller and a type 1 diabetic, and over time I’ve learnt how to plan nice outdoorsy trips.

Let me walk you through some of the things I do, so I can travel successfully with my diabetes.

How do I travel and plan my trip?

I love to travel, and I particularly enjoy road trips. When I’m going on a trip, weeks before I’m due to leave I start making a list and thinking through all the possible scenarios.

Some of the major considerations I make as part of my trip planning are:

  • I buy in advance my medication for the entire trip – I want to make sure I have what I need, as sometimes the pharmacies or dispensaries in hill stations may not have the same brand of insulin and metformin that I take.
  • If I’m travelling on a bus service, I book my seat near the van/coach’s fridge – Travelling with diabetic supplies, I want to make sure my insulin can be stored nearby and I have easy access.
  • If I’m travelling in my personal car, I take a small cooling mini-fridge with an in-car charger.
  • I look up online hospitals and clinics in the area I’m going to, and save the locations in my and my travel partners’ smartphones – If anything happens and I need medical assistance, I want myself and my group to know exactly where we need to go.

What do I make sure to bring along with me?

While travelling, I keep my necessary items with me all the time. Essential diabetic travel supplies that I pack for my trips include:

  • A medicine box, which I sort by dosage.
  • Healthy snacks.
  • An insulation bag and refreezable ice packs.
  • A backup battery for my CGM.
  • A backup CGM sensor in case my current gets faulty.
  • An instant glucose monitor kit.
  • My prescriptions, in case airport or pharmacy staff need them.

When doing any physical activity, I also take instant glucose tablets (in case of hypoglycemia) and painkillers.

What are the main challenges for me while travelling/trekking?

The main challenges I face as a diabetic while travelling and performing physical activities are:

  • maintaining the temperature of my insulin (South East Asia can get very hot).
  • keeping track of my glucose levels (especially to avoid hypoglycemia, which is more dangerous on a trip than hyperglycemia).
  • making sure my CGM monitor is fully charged before I start the activity.

Just before starting a physical activity, I also bulk up my calories a little. I find this works for me as my blood glucose levels may get higher at first, but as soon as I start the activity, it’s all used up and my level returns to normal within a few minutes.

What adventures have I been on with my diabetes?

I’ve done many trips and physical activities as a diabetic. These include:

  • Trekking many of the small-medium mountains of Kashmir and the Himalayas.
  • Camping in the Hindu Kush for 3 days without electricity or many cooking supplies.
  • Driving for 15 hours, taking on-and-off breaks at motorway service stations.

What’s my advice to diabetics who are afraid to travel?

My first advice to any diabetic who’s afraid to travel is this – Please think of yourself as a normal person!

You’re just like everyone else. You simply have a carbohydrate processing deficiency, that’s it.

And people like us simply have more things to plan. We have to think accordingly about the location, mode of transport, medication, supplies and activities.

Do any physical activity you want. Don’t panic if your blood glucose level starts to get low, eat something sweet – It’s the perfect time to eat those chocolates you’ve been craving all year!

When you travel, your travel buddies will support and help you. My favourite travel buddy is my partner, who is aware and helps keep an eye on my health.

Work out what will comfort you, and keep supplies with you – You’ll be fine.

So go ahead and plan that trip! If I can do it, you can too.

Profile photo of Hira Tayyab, a type 1 diabetic and user of a flash glucose monitor (a FreeStyle Libre by Abbott)
Hira Tayyab

Hira Tayyab has been a diabetes fighter since 2019. She was diagnosed at the age of 25, but is very positive about her life ahead. She has trekked, camped, and taken multi-day road trips with her condition, and continues to live a normal life. She’s a keen CGM user and recommends all diabetics try them out!

Editor's note: The opinions and experiences reflected in stories from the diabetic community belong to the authors, and do not necessarily represent the views of InDiabetes.

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